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Text messages since our last meeting
Me: Nice chatting with you yesterday!
Me: I have just sent a copy of one of your images to an Egyptologist named Joann Fletcher, who works in the archaeology department at the university of York. Do you remember you said you would be willing to consider the possibility that the Book of Mormon was invented by Joseph Smith? What do you think the implications might be if his translations turn out to be wrong?
Me: Are you getting these messages? I think we need to talk. Can you come around tomorrow?
Them: We can come tonight.
They turned up looking very dejected. I greeted them and invited them in, they declined, saying that they don't really have very long. "This isn't a five minute thing," I told them, "do you think you can come back another day?"
They looked at each other awkwardly, then French guy said "That's the thing. You see, we've been talking about this and we think we shouldn't come to visit you any more." I was quite taken back by this, not because I wasn't expecting it but because I wasn't expecting it to be the first thing they said. I don't really recall what happened next. I do remember that I told them I had received a reply from the Egyptologist I had written to, and went to get it.
I handed them a copy each. It was the image that Smith drew and then the email contents. I had asked Joann to select A/B answers to indicate which of the two descriptions (if any) were most accurate. One would be the Smith explanation, and the other was the scholarly explanation. I even randomly shuffled them between A and B. French guy held his and just moved his hand to his side as if he wasn't even holding it, USA guy folded it in half, and then made the crease very precise using his nails, in a way that showed me he was folding it with deliberation. "We are not going to read this" the French guy said.
"Why not?" I asked.
"We already know what it says," USA guy said, "and we know it's not good in favour of Mormonism."
"I don't understand," I told them, "what do you mean?"
USA guy said "People say that it's wrong."
"So why won't you look at it?" I asked.
"Because we don't go by evidence" USA guy said. "Evidence is not important to us, we go by our testimony"
"But to do that you are willing to ignore evidence?" I asked.
"Have you done this research yourself?" USA guy asked.
"Yes," I said, "I looked up what Egyptologists say the meanings are, then I printed out the picture and sent it to an Egypologist and asked if she would indicate which was correct in each case, and the answers are on that piece of paper."
"I'll bet you money she has seen this before," USA guy said, "she knows what this is, she'll have heard of it."
I told him that it is obvious she will have seen it before because it is quite a common piece of evidence found in archaeology, "but that doesn't mean she'll know anything at all about it's links with Mormonism."
USA guy then asked me something about how I know she knew, or something along those lines. I told him "She can read hieroglyphs, she read it."
"Do you know that?" he asked?
"Yes," I told him. "I know because the black guy at the end, who Smith says is a slave, was identified by her as Anubis. She wrote that although the picture doesn't have the typical Jackal head she, was able to tell who it was because she read it in the text written above him. So are you going to look at it?"
"No" they said.
"Why not?" I asked.
French guy gave me the same old stuff about how he has testimony from the Holy Spirit. I was really frustrated. USA tried to say something and I started to talk over him. I realised I was getting wound up so I said "I just started to talk over you, my brain was racing away and I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry, please tell me what you was going to say" and I sat down on the floor.
USA guy started to tell me about how my approach was wrong. Because of my past experiences I wasn't willing to listen to the Holy Spirit and wanted to find proof. I told him I had found proof, but unfortunately it was proof against his position. He asked what I meant
"Evidence is something you collect," I told him, "at some point you might find you have enough evidence to feel that it proves something, that is when you have proof. In my opinion, what you are holding in your hands is not just evidence, it's proof!"
"Proof of what?" USA guy asked.
I told him "It is proof that Joseph Smith could not translate Egyptian hieroglyphs."
"But this is the evidence of men" USA guy said.
"No it's not," I said, "it's the evidence of A man. That man is Joseph Smith, the man you think is a prophet of God. It is a picture drawn with his own hands, and translation of the words on that picture that he also wrote with his own hands. This isn't someone later recalling what they think he said years earlier, this is physical evidence of something that we know has not changed. This is the first time we have the before and after evidence to compare."
"But any mistakes are the mistakes of men" said the USA guy.
"Sure, "I said. "We have already agreed that the original account was made by humans and so we can expect errors there. We have also agreed that the corrections made later were made by humans without divine instruction and that is why the same mistake elsewhere in the book was missed. The only thing we have left now tying The Book of Mormon to a divine entity is the claim that Smith could translate Egyptian hieroglyphs into English, and there in your hand you have physical evidence that he couldn't."
"No, we also have testimony" the French guy said.
I said to him "Are you really telling me that you are going to ignore evidence in favour how nice it feels when you close your eyes and think about something you like?"
"Yes" he said.
I asked if they knew that the document Smith said was written with Abraham's own hand had been carbon dated and was about 1500 years too young."
"What was dated? Where did it come from?" USA guy asked. I explained how the documents had been split into three scrolls and three sets of fragments of those scrolls. The scrolls burned in a museum fire, but the fragments were discovered elsewhere and dated.
"They won't be the actual scrolls," USA guy said, "the ones he translated from we don't have."
I told him that we do have fragments of the one Smith translated from, and we know this because of what Smith drew and what the Book of Abraham says about the contents of the scrolls. "I have spent some time collecting evidence, will you at least look at it?"
"No" they both said, shaking their heads with a mixture of what seemed to be a mixture of defiance, and pride in that defiance. I was honestly completely gob smacked.
"You actually won't even look at evidence?"
"No" they said.
USA guy smiled and said. "I am here on my Mormon Mission, do you think I am just going to pack up now and go home or something?"
"I don't expect anything," I told him. "I have no idea what you will make of the evidence. You might read it and just outright disagree with it. I don't know what you will think. I am not interested in making you think things, I am only concerned that you won't look at evidence just so that you can keep thinking them."
French guy explained that the problem with proof is that it takes away our ability to have faith. "I think you are wrong." I told him. "Take evolution as an example. There is more evidence for evolution than there is for just about anything else we know of. There is an abundance of it, and it spans across all areas of science; yet there are still people who reject it despite the proof. In addition to this, even knowing that there is a God I still have the option to choose to do right or wrong. I know that killing babies is wrong, I don't need to believe or disbelieve in a God to know that."
USA guy went on to explain that with proof I would have no option other than to believe it is true. "Then you don't have the option of mercy," he told me. "If you do something wrong and then die, God can show you mercy because you didn't know about the mercy of Jesus. The only way to receive mercy when you believe is through the salvation of Jesus."
"I don't understand" I told him. "So if I don't believe in the salvation of Jesus and do something wrong then God will forgive me for my ignorance, but if I do believe in the salvation of Jesus and I do something wrong then God will forgive me for believing in Jesus?"
"Erm, not exactly" USA guy said. "If you sin when you know it is true and you sin then you get cut off, no mercy, the end. Even if you make the littlest sin like a thought then you can be cut off if you don't repent."
"I don't think anyone should ever be punished for a thought," I told him.
French guy said "We are not going to come around any more, and we are not going to discuss religion with you any more. If you text us anything then we will not reply."
"That's a shame," I told him, "because I like you guys, you are fun to talk to. I am okay with not discussing religion with you any more, but it would be nice if you could sometimes just say hello and we could ask each other how we are doing."
"Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We like you too, that would be nice" USA guy said.
"We would like to thank you for the time you have given us" French guy said.
"So," I asked, "are you willing to take these documents with you?"
"No" they said.
"How about this then?" I continued, "You don't know what the Holy Spirit is or is not going to tell you to do. So how about you take them with you. Don't read them, but just don't throw them away. If one day the Holy Spirit says to look at them then they are there for you."
"In that case I can just look on the Internet" USA guy said.
"No, I don't think that's a good idea," I told him. "There are a lot of emotional people on the Internet making arguments from their emotions. Not only is this not a good way to decide what is true you will find that there are people out there who will be outright offensive. I don't want you to be put off by it, and I wouldn't want you to get upset either. So why not take it, and if the Holy Spirit tells you to, then read it."
"I'll tell you what," USA guy said. "I will take your email address, and then if the Holy Spirit tells me to read it I will write to you and ask for it." I knew this was the best I was going to get, so I agreed.
USA guy said "Please continue to read The Book of Mormon, and please keep praying. But we will not answer any questions you have, you will have to find the answers yourself. We won't answer any of your text messages....well, unless you text us to tell us you have received your testimony."
"Okay," I said. "From this point onwards we shall not discuss religion, but will you do me a favour?" I asked.
"What is it?" asked USA guy.
"You believe you have this additional tool for discovering truth that for some reason I cannot access. So could you please keep praying for something for me?"
"What do you want me to pray for?" USA guy asked.
"You believe that Smith translated Egyptian hieroglyphs into English despite the original evidence of the plates not being available, and yet at the same time can see that he couldn't translate Egyptian into English based on the physical evidence you have in your hand. To me that's logically inconsistent, you have to believe two opposite things at the same time."
"Hmm," USA guy said, "I really don't understand why that is, but I know the Book of Mormon is true and Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.
"When we met I told you I was interested in your brains, and this is exactly the kind of thing I am interested in" I told them. "Holding two opposing facts as true at the same time is really interesting. So, no matter how long it takes would you keep praying for an answer to me? Could you pray for an answer which explains why Smith got the translation wrong for the facsimile he drew? Please keep thinking about it, and if in a year's time or something you get an answer that makes sense to you then please email me and tell me what it is. I won't use it as an opportunity to discuss religion with you, I just want you to keep thinking about it."
Then they left, and I threw lots of printed paper in the recycle bin.
PS: TV programme has started on Channel 4 called "Meet the Mormons". The narrator said that during their mission work they are not allowed to use their first names, that'll explain why I always found it so difficult to get them to respond using their "real" names.