Film Challenges LDS Translation

The Salt Lake Tribune, Thursday, August 8, 2002

A documentary film challenging the translation of an LDS book of scripture is being shown at several Utah locations this week.

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The Lost Book of Abraham: Investigating a Remarkable Mormon Claim” was produced by the Institute for Religious Research, a non-denominational Christian group in Grand Rapids, Mich. The institute critiques religious claims of groups such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others.

“The Lost Book” begins with the story of how Mormon founder Joseph Smith bought and translated several Egyptian papyrus scrolls and fragments in 1835. Smith claimed the scrolls were an original text from the biblical patriarch Abraham, and his Book of Abraham and became part of The Pearl of Great Price, one of the faith’s scriptures.

In the film, Robert Ritner, associate professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago, says that Smith’s translation does not match those of professional linguists. He and other scholars say the book is an Egyptian book of breathing, not a record of Abraham.

LDS officials and scholars declined to be interviewed for the film, but it does quote from writings by Mormon Egyptologist John Gee, who argues that the fragments are “not the portion of the papyri that contained the text of the Book of Abraham.”

Luke Wilson, the film’s writer and producer, defends its approach.

“We have tried to bring a level of sensitivity to this kind of work, I think, with some success,” Wilson said Tuesday. “We are trying to have a constructive dialogue.”

Jan Shipps, a non-Mormon who has studied Mormonism extensively and who is quoted in the film, doubts this film will have any impact on most LDS faithful.

“This story has been around since 1967 and I assumed it would undercut Mormon beliefs,” Shipps said in an interview from her Indiana home. “But instead of being like a stone shattering a pane of glass, it was more like a stone being tossed into a pool of water and dropping to the bottom.”

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