I attended a fireside Sunday night with Wilfred Griggs, Assoc Professor from BYU. His specialty is Egyptology. While I had never heard of him before, the flyer listed the following information: (1) Director of the Seila Pyramid Excavation, (2) Produced a National Geographic Channel Egypt Special, (3) author of numerous books on Egypt, (4) Currently working on pre and post-Christian burial grounds.
The Nat’l Geo reference really caught my attention. I don’t have cable, but I love that channel when I get a chance to watch. The fireside was excellent!!! (Note, I have been to 2 others about church history in the last month, that were quite disappointing.) He spoke for an hour, and then we had a closing prayer, and he allowed us to ask questions for another hour. The title of the fireside was “Joseph Smith and the Egyptian Connection.”
Here are some initial points I found interesting. He told of a conversation with another Egyptologist. Griggs had previously given this person, (Prof Berger?) a copy of the Book of Mormon, and asked him what he thought of it. Berger replied that “it is certainly an ancient book.” He had no problems with the gold plates, because archaeologists have found plenty of gold plates. He had no problem with Joseph Smith. He said something to the effect of “a lot of savants to strange and special things. His problem was “we’ve got to get rid of angels. We could really make this a good book.” He went on to say that the Book of Ether fits very well in the 2000 BC time period.
I know this is an anecdotal story. Griggs made it sound like many Egyptologists have a belief that the BoM is authentic, but angels and miracles don’t fit into an academic mind. On the one hand, it is exciting as a church member that the Book of Mormon might be getting some respect in academic circles, but I just wonder how much of the story is embellished.
Some other highlights of his talk: He really doesn’t like the Jesus Seminar. I was not surprised by this. The Jesus Seminar is a bunch of scholars who have tried to determine the true historicity of Jesus. They reject many of the sayings attributed to Jesus (such as the entire Book of John), and question many other traditional teachings. Personally, I have been intrigued by the Jesus Seminar, ever since I heard about them in my mission in the late 1980’s. I find their insights quite interesting, but am not sure I fully embrace all of their conclusions. They have published an interesting book called “The 5 Gospels”, which analyzes Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and another gospel not included in the Bible, called the Gospel of Thomas, which they think is highly reliable, even though it is a gnostic gospel.
Griggs said over 8000 New Testament manuscripts have been found, daring between about 100 AD and 1500 BC (roughly the invention of the printing press.) None of them are identical, though they are quite similar. Often, we think of an “official” copy of the Bible, but there isn’t one. He also said that there is a tradition that Jesus sent Thomas to India on a mission, Andrew to Russia, James to Spain, and Matthew to Iraq and Armenia. There is no proof of the validity of this claim, but it does seem to have merit.
After the death of Jesus, and long before Constantine established Christianity as the state religion, many cities vied for control of the church. Jerusalem had a claim, because that is where Jesus taught. Antioch, Syria said Jerusalem was too wicked, and that it should be in charge. Alexandria, Egypt had the church university, and it should be in charge (Griggs compared it to BYU, but wasn’t sure how the sports teams did.) 🙂 Ephesus, Turkey was the home of the last of the living Apostle, John, and claimed it should be the center. Finally, Rome, as center of the empire, felt it should be the center of the church. So, there was much diversity in the early years, and it wasn’t so cut and dried as we’re taught in Sunday School with Peter being in charge (and therefore Rome.) Apparently, Griggs has a book on this subject, that is quite admired by his peers.
Finally, I got to ask a question. Another blog called Hieing to Kolob has an 8-part analysis of the Charles Anthon affair. (Note BiV has a new website, and the 8-parts is her old website.) One of the things she pointed out was that Joseph had no idea what language he was translating. When Martin Harris took the characters to Charles Anthon for verification, Anthon says they are “Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sideways, were arranged in perpendicular columns.” He also said they might be some sort of reformed Eqyptian, which is how mormons got this idea.
I asked Griggs if Anthon was an expert, and if the characters might have been Aramiac instead of Egyptian, (as suggested by BiV.) Griggs didn’t specifically address if they were Aramiac (the Language of the Jews, before Hebrew), but did give some background on Anthon. He said Anthon was an excellent scholar of Greek and Latin, and still has some notoriety relating to that. However, he really had no idea what he was seeing. Many scholars don’t like to admit they don’t know something, and so Anthon was probably speculating on that point. Griggs did mention something about Akkadian (related to Aramaic) might have been a possibility, but Egyptology didn’t exist in 1830, and really came to a head in the 1900’s. Since then Eqyptology has really expanded, and some of the things we’ve been taught have changed. Anthon really didn’t know what he was looking at.
As an example of how Egyptology has changed, he said, “You and I were taught that the pyramids were burial chambers, but no pharoah has ever been found in a pyramid.” He then said they discovered that one pharaoh built 6 pyramids. Obviously, only 1 is needed for the body, so that theory no longer holds truth. He said this is just one of many examples of how Egyptology has changed over the years.
Anyway, it was fascinating. He talked in brief about the Book of Abraham, but I was not able to ask any questions about it, because others had plenty of questions, and he was quite long-winded in his answers.