Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Asking the Wrong Questions IV

Mr. Lauer's fourth question is:
I understand that Dr. Ritner’s view of the interpretation of the text differs material [sic] from your view. Are there other ancient Egyptian documents in such dispute?
Which text are you talking about? And what do you mean by interpretation?

If you mean the Book of Abraham, then yes, our view differs. This is a natural consequence of denominational affiliation or lack thereof.

If you mean the Joseph Smith Papyri, then it depends on what you mean by interpretation. If you mean interpretation of the signs, it would depend on which of Professor Ritner's editions you refer to because Professor Ritner's readings of the papyri differ between his editions. If you mean interpretation of the words, then you might find Egyptologists in vigorous debate about which grammar theories are being used and what shade of meaning is given to various terms where you might see slightly different ways of saying the same thing, much as you would experience comparing two different Bible translations. We might see a significant difference where you might not.

The biggest problem is that I have never published my interpretation (in the sense of translation) of either the Joseph Smith Papyri or the Book of Abraham. I simply have not seen any compelling need to publish my own interpretation of more than isolate passages from the Joseph Smith Papyri. As for the Book of Abraham, since I am not one of those who thinks that we currently have the original text of the Book of Abraham, it is pointless to try to make my own translation.

Now for the second part of the question:
Are there other ancient Egyptian documents in such dispute?
Absolutely! Two immediately come to mind. One is the dispute between Martin Stadler and Joachim Quack about the interpretation of a line in Papyrus Insinger. Another would be the disagreements between Joachim Spiegel, Hartwig Altenmuller, Jürgen Osing, James Allen, and Harold Hayes about the Pyramid Texts. One can also look at the long-running disputes between Professor Ritner and Christopher Faraone about the interpretation of one of the PGM, or between Professor Ritner and any of a number of his colleagues.

To see why this is a bad question, one need look only to the Bible. Is a Calvinist going to interpret Romans the same way a Catholic is? Does the fact that the Calvinist does not interpret the text the same way that the Catholic does make the Calvinist automatically wrong?