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Did Ed Ashment Refute Hugh Nibley on the Joseph Smith Papyri?
Research by Kerry A. Shirts
A Critic of Mormonism said:
Even Nibley backed down from this denial some years ago in a public forum under attack by Ed Ashment who presented this quite obvious and undeniable physical evidence from Joseph's own pen and the papyri themselves
No, what Nibley said was that he had to look at things more carefully as we all do, but he also showed many areas where the critics and especially Ashment are DEAD WRONG.
For instance: Nibley noted that Facsimile 1 is unique, though critics have claimed that it is a typical ordinary run-of-the-mill funerary text. Nibley also showed that of all the facsimiles that look like #3 they ALL tell different stories and use the same characters, though in different combinations which show different interpretations. In other words, if you have seen one you have NOT seen them all and know what they are all about.
Nibley also noted that when Ashment contends that Anubis is NEVER shown with a human head, that Ashment is DEAD WRONG. In Bonnet's "Reallexicon" it shows a priest with an Anubis mask on, clearly a human wearing a mask. John Gee in his Master's Thesis on the Four Sons of Horus also shows a priest with the Anubis mask on. The point is, which I have again, already shown, is that the man is a priest, whether human headed or drawn as Anubis. This shows Smith is CORRECT in his interpretation. He is ALSO sacrificing, which is also what Anubis does do. Again Smith is CORRECT. Nibley also noted that in the Apocalypse of Abraham, which just happens to be in the first person as is our Bk of Abr., and it is illustrated also. In other words, Egyptian illustrations can and were used to illustrate episodes in Abraham's life, as Smith DOES ALSO.
Nibley also showed that Ashment was correct in noting the fluid nature of the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar. They were obviously trying to do what they said they were doing, making a Grammar and Alphabet. Nothing was said about translating the Bk of Abr from the A & G at all. Nibley also noted that ancient studies of Abraham are concluding that Abraham DID write an autobiography. That Abraham did hand his writings down. That his writings were illustrated with vignettes from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Nibley also noted that now Egyptologists have found that the hawk is indeed shown to be a messenger, an angel of the Lord. Nibley also noted that the Hebrew word Raukeeyang DOES best describe the Egyptian figure in Fac. 2, fig 4, meaning expanse, and it IS an EGYPTIAN numerical figure of 1,000! It's also a function of time in the cycles of the universe. (Hugh Nibley - "The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham" - Response to Ed Ashment, "Sunstone, vol. iv (1979), 49-51).
If this is Nibley backing down, then I'll eat my hat. As usual this is Nibley showing all the rest of us how careless we have been with the BofA and the facsimiles. There are plenty of seriously significant Egyptian parallels, if we bother to look in the right directions. Nibley, rather showed Ashment how to research carefully instead of so sloppily.
[a brief note - John Gee contacted me on this and disagreed with me. However, he thought I was defending Ed Ashment as a scholar of the Joseph Smith Papyri. What I am doing here is showing the critics that Ed Ashment in this early article of his was not yet an anti-Mormon. He was still defending Joseph Smith as a prophet. Critics misunderstand this. I am well aware that Ashment is critical against Mormonism now. I understand he is bitterly resentful of Hugh Nibley. What I am demonstrating to critics here is that they have failed to understand Ashment's Sunstone article. All they see is Ashment "devastating" Hugh Nibley. Well that is just not so. Thanks John for the note anyway!]
Have LDS Scholars Said the Book of Abraham is False?
We have seen it said around here that Ed Ashment has refuted Hugh Nibley (apparently on Nibley's own admission, according to our critics) and therefore the LDS scholars have started claiming the BofA is invalid, and false. But does the examination of the evidence bear this out?
Two problems that immediately arise from this stance. One is the view that Ed Ashment has refuted Joseph Smith. In his article in "Sunstone" magazine, called "The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham" (Sunstone, Dec. 1979, pp. 33-48), Ashment deals with the facsimiles in a way that apparently most critics are completely in the dark over. Is Ashment refuting Joseph Smith? Not even close. Ashment's contention is that "...Joseph Smith is ultimately responsible for the extensive restorations of Facsimile 1 and 2 and can yet be a prophet." (p. 33) This is a far cry from what impression critics give us however! THey want us to believe that in this article Ed Ashment refutes Hugh Nibley, and by extension the Mormon position on the Joseph Smith Papyri, which in turns shows Joseph Smith is a false prophet. That is the angle the critics are trying for on this Ed Ashment Vs. Hugh Nibley argument. The critics' argument just doesn't wash.
Ashment went further in his article than any critic has ever led on at all! He noted after examining the facsimiles and various copies of the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar and other ideas that even though Joseph Smith "...was connected with the entire project", that "...these two facts are not compelling reasons to assume that Joseph Smith was a fraud and not a prophet; nor can they be considered to contribute to such a proposition." (p. 42). Ashment is refuting Jerald and Sandra Tanner's argument here! Ashment is not attacking Hugh Nibley at all, but the Tanners. This the critics have never admitted. Ashment continues: "For one thing, the prophet never made any attempts to hide the incomplete papyri even after apparent conjectural restorations of them were published in the "Times and Seasons" and had made national headlines. If he were trying to perpetuate a hoax, he certainly would have tried to destroy the damning evidence." (p. 42).
Ashment is *Defending Joseph Smith and the Papyri here*
This the critics have never bothered to realize. How on earth can critics miss this? How on earth indeed.
***MOST TELLING INDEED***
What are Ashment's conclusions? Are you sitting down here? Well sit down because you just ain't gonna believe this for all the world. If we were to just accept what our critics are telling us, Ashment is simply DAMNING everything about Mormonism, Joe Smith, and that thar idiotic Book of Abraham. Read his conclusions and learn then...
First off, he ends up taking up sides *with* Hugh Nibley here. Huh? All I have ever seen from critics is that Nibley admitted he was wrong and Ashment right. But Ashment uses Nibley's argument and expands it. All I have ever seen said is that Ashment destroys Hugh Nibley, and Nibley took off down the alley with his tail tucked between his legs howling like a cur. This is misrepresenting the facts of the Ashment/Nibley exchange.
Ashment says "...the prophet may not have felt that he had translated the Book of Abraham from any of the Joseph Smith Papyri." (p. 44). We do a doubletake in amazement! This is Nibley's argument fair and fitting! Ashment is in *agreement here.
Ashment also said: "...he [Joseph Smith] only "translated" the vignettes of Facsimile 2, oddly not rendering the meaning of any of the hieroglyphic texts. When he challenged the world to "find out these numbers" he may have been admitting that as yet he could not. Therefore the prophet cannot be held responsible for establishing a relationship between the Joseph Smith Papyri and the Book of Abraham when he may not have been sure about it himself." (p. 44). This is *not* the Tanner's argument at all though. Ashment isrefuting the Tanner's, not Hugh Nibley.
And finally... : "...Finally, although he was uneducated, he was a very dynamic man concerned with the big picture and not small details. Concerning his revelations, he wrote: 'We do not think so much of the orthography [spelling] and manner, as we did the subject matter...'
Moreover, it seems that scholastic accuracy was not one of the prophet's goals, while one of his overriding concerns was an 'urgency' to disseminate important ideas, even before the obvious grammar and spelling errors had been corrected. Indeed, to him the processes of translation had very limited relationships to manuscripts and dictionary meanings. They [had] much to do with the basic ideas and doctrinal relevance to a modern world. Those who are trying to destroy his reputation by criticizing him about details concerning which he was not especially anxious are in effect erecting a straw man and then knocking it down. It is his message, not his method which concerned the prophet. If he is to be judged, therefore, it should not be for his methodology; it is the value if his work which should be determined." (p. 44)
This is Ashment's *conclusion*! But critics say Ashment was refuting Joseph Smith in this article! Where? I have it in front of my face and I find Ashment not only not refuting Smith and Nibley, but I find Ashment, at least in 1979, defending both men. I betcha ya never saw *this* from critics have you.
But I have another bone to pick with critics also, this time concerning Nibley. Our doubty critics have misrepresented *both* Ed Ashment and Hugh Nibley.
What does Nibley say? Well he starts off with a bang! "Three cheers for Brother Ashment!" (Sunstone, Dec. 1979, p. 49). Nibley praises Ashment for the reappraisal! This is a far cry from Nibley whimpering and being beated down though! All I have ever seen the anti-Mormon critics claim is that Nibley is a coward scholar after all and has been whipped into submission. His article, of course, trashes this lame misreading. But why bother to read Nibley when it is so much easier to just read Tanner's assessments of him? Why indeed! The Tanners haven't got *anything* correct about Nibley or the BofA or the JSPapyri.
Nibley does admit he is constantly being outdated with new information, but is this an admission of defeat? Not even close! "I would dare say that four fifths of everything I put down has changed, of course. That is the whole idea; this is an ongoing process, and I have some interesting examples of that." (p. 49).
Is this defeatist talk??? In what year did scholars finally decided they have all the right answers? 1979? 1984? 1988? 1997? We simply are not done yet, which is what Nibley was saying.
Nibley goes on to note that at one time in Egyptological studies that they had come to the conclusion that "Anubis is never drawn with a human head." But note what Nibley finds: "Even in Bonnet's Lexicon you can find Anubis drawn with a human head..." (p. 49)
Does this sound like Nibley is refuting Smith or the BofA, or admitting that he has been 100% wrong all the time as our critics contend?
"Since hearing brother Ashment I have to make some changes in what I have said already. Do I have to hang my head and go hide or something like that because I have been discredited? These things are being found out all the time. There are lots of things that Brother Ashment pointed out that I should have noticed; but I notice I could point out a lot of things that he has not noticed." (p. 51) Does THIS sound like Nibley is defeated? It does show us he is willing to update himself, but Ashment certainly did not have the final sayso either! This our critics have never come to grips with.
Nibley goes on for the next several paragraphs pointing out correlations with the Egyptian number 1,000, the Raukeyang idea in Smith's facsimile, the idea of real history behind the authentic BofA, the expanse of heaven and the starry expanse idea of Smith and the ancient Egyptians, etc. Does this sound like Nibley is refuting the BofA and Smith though? Critics say Nibley has admitted defeat. If so, it was certainly not here in this Sunstone article! Pray tell, can our critics show us where Nibley has ever admitted everything is false and Smith was wrong?
That is the challenge with this particular issue....