A Book of Abraham mystery to be solved at FAIR Conference

By Michael De Groote
Mormon Times
30 July 2010

William Schryver is onto something big, and it's driving critics of the Book of Abraham crazy.

Schryver is scheduled to speak at the FAIR Conference, an annual event presented by the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research or FAIR. The conference focuses on defending The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints against misrepresentation.

This year's conference is Aug. 5 and 6 at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy, Utah. Schryver's presentation on "The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers" is one of several topics by other speakers such as David Bokovoy, Jeff Bradshaw, William Duncan, Craig Foster, John Gee, Brian Hales, Valerie Hudson, Gary Lawrence, Steve Mayfield, Dan Peterson, Shirley Ricks, Stephen Ricks, Matthew Roper, Royal Skousen and Peter Watkins.

Schryver's topic has garnered the most buzz on the Internet — leading to frustrating speculation by many critics and praise by those who have seen an early version of the presentation. The Deseret News saw a video version of this presentation on July 26. If Schryver, a software engineer, is correct in his analysis, the last 40 years of (LDS) scholarship about the Kirtland Egyptian Papers will need to be revised.

The Kirtland Egyptian Papers are a collection of documents created in Kirtland, Ohio, by Joseph Smith and his associates. The content of the papers has long presented a puzzle to scholars. Critics have maintained that the papers were used in the process of translating the Mormon scripture called the Book of Abraham — and that the translation is incorrect. Many Mormon scholars, however, have thought the documents show an attempt of Joseph Smith's associates to decipher Egyptian by using the text of the Book of Abraham as a Rosetta stone — a sort of reverse engineering project.

Schryver will argue on Aug. 6 that both approaches are incorrect. "I am purporting to give a comprehensive answer to the question, 'What is the meaning and purpose of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers?'" Schryver said. "That has never been done."

Greg Smith, one online commenter who had also seen the early version of Schryver's presentation, put it this way: "Schryver has, I think, pretty much killed, buried, and nailed the coffin shut on the idea the KEP are the 'translation documents' of the Book of Abraham, and then thrown the coffin into Mount Doom, before dropping Mt. Doom under the continental plates."

Other topics to be covered at the conference include the original text of the Book of Mormon, Fawn Brodie's faulty look at Joseph Smith and plural marriage, Book of Mormon geography, the "Big Love" television program, how people view Mormons and more.

More information can be found on FAIR's website, Live online audio streaming of the event will be available for a fee during the conference.


Testing Book of Mormon geography theories

By Michael De Groote
Mormon Times
Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008

The Book of Mormon is full of information about geography, said Stephen L. Carr at the Book of Mormon Lands Conference last Friday in Salt Lake City. Carr, who is a medical doctor, discussed some of the criteria used to test any theory of where the Book of Mormon took place.

And theories abound.

"There is a group of people who consider that everything took place in Peru," Carr said. "Others (think it took place) right around the Isthmus of Panama. Others in Mesoamerica. Others in (the) New York state, Eastern United States, Great Lakes area. And then there is the overall pervading idea that came back from the early days in the church that it was the entire Western Hemisphere -- from Tierra del Fuego to Point Barrow, Alaska."

Carr gave a list of items to use in judging whether the culture of a proposed area fits the Book of Mormon's described culture:

1. There should be a high state of civilization that includes city-states. "Each of the cities mentioned in the Book of Mormon is probably a small city-state," Carr said. "In fact, sometimes, the location is mentioned as 'the land of such-and-such' or 'city such-and-such.' Sometimes these seem to be superimposed. It's almost as if the Book of Mormon were like the state of Utah, where ... each county is a city-state."

2. There should be an agricultural base that could support millions of people.

3. There needs to be a society with a written language and scribes as important officers. "Mesoamerica is the only place in the Western Hemisphere where there was a written language in Book of Mormon times," Carr said.

4. There should be calendaring and dating systems.

5. There should be a merchant class that uses a system of weights and measures.

6. There should be engineering skills to build temples, towers and highways -- using cement.

7. Precious metals should be used by special artisans.

8. There should be a warrior society. "This is not just a ragtag group of people," Carr said. "They had special fortifications. They were trained."

9. There should be marriage alliances used in the culture to build political relationships.

10. There should be some traditions of a white bearded god, such as found in Mesoamerica.

The amazing thing to Carr is not just that all these cultural items are found in the Western Hemisphere, but that they are found in Mesoamerica, an area unknown to Joseph Smith in 1829.

Carr also presented several geographic references that can be used to look at proposed maps of the Book of Mormon.

Any map would require a "narrow neck of land" and a major river that flows from south to north, according to Carr.

Distances in the Book of Mormon are measured by time, according to Carr. By looking at events and actual and implied travel times, distances between cities and areas can be estimated. He also said that terrain, such as jungles and mountain ranges, needed to be taken into account when figuring out distances.

But the text needs to be read carefully.

In Alma 22:32, for example, it talks about how "It was only the distance of a day and a half’s journey for a Nephite ... from the east to the west sea." Carr pointed out that it doesn't say "east sea." This means that it may not be describing the distance between the seas, but between a geographic feature in the east and the west sea.

A similar scripture in Helaman 4:7 maintains this description (even though it is in a different order) when it says, "From the west sea, even unto the east; it being a day’s journey for a Nephite." Carr described a proposed match for this described distance: a 10- to 20-mile-wide plain from the Pacific Ocean to eastern mountains in Mesoamerica. This was an area that would have been ideal for an invasion force from the south to gain advantage over cities in the north.

Another distance that can be calculated is a string of cities on the sea east. Amalakiah attacks each city in succession beginning with the city of Moroni. "You get the impression that he didn't dilly-dally and take weeks to go from place to place," Carr said. "He roamed through here in a very short time, possibly days or even hours. And so there's a good possibility that from (Moroni) up to the city of Bountiful could be something in the neighborhood of not more than 60 to 100 miles."

Alma's journey from the city of Nephi through the valley of Alma to Zarahemla took a total of 21 days travel time. This journey through the wilderness included flocks, children and supplies. "It is unlikely that they traveled more than 10 miles a day," Carr said. "And if they were true Israelites, as they were, they may not have traveled on the Sabbath. And so we are estimating that the total distance ... is between 180 and 200 miles. That's all."

It took Alma four days to go from Melek to Noah -- about 30 to 60 miles. Carr also estimated the distance from Manti to Antiparah to be about 50 to 100 miles.

Using these and other calculations, Carr estimated that the entire area of the Book of Mormon, from the original Hill Cumorah in the north to the city of Nephi in the south was between 450 and 600 miles. The width at its widest would be about 150 to 250 miles. "Roughly the size of state of Utah and Idaho up to about Idaho Falls," Carr said.

Carr then presented the different theories for a Mesoamerican Book of Mormon geography. He reviewed the proposals of John Sorenson, Joseph Allen, Richard Hauck, Garth Norman and John Lund. Although most agreed on general areas, there are differences of opinion on specifics.

For example, Sorenson places Moroni, Lehi, Omner and Mulek on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, but Allen, Hauck, Norman and Lund place them on the shore of the Gulf of Honduras on the other side of the Yucatan Peninsula. Some of the scholars think that the Grijalva River may be the Book of Mormon's Sidon River, others think the Usumacinta River is the Sidon River.

"We need to keep ... in mind, as we study the Book of Mormon, that regardless of where it took place, we know that it is true," Carr said, "and most of us, if not all of us, have had our testimonies of the Book of Mormon long before we began to think or study about geography. And that is my testimony that the Book of Mormon is true."