The Official Position is That There is No Official Position

Blair Hodges has replied to my previous set of questions concerning his statement that “the Maxwell Institute as such has no official position on the Book of Abraham.”  I’ve reposted it here, since it is buried in an bunch of other comments and replies.

Cynthia L. is correct when she says (below): “it looks like Blair Hodges was simply noting that just because MI publishes an author’s article, doesn’t mean that author speaks for MI or represents its official position. I understand that’s slightly different from what Blair wrote, but it certainly seems (to me) to be what he meant.”

That is right, and from what I understand, it isn’t a policy change. Trying to pin down the Institute’s official position reminded me of the BBC journalist/anti-Mormon John Sweeney’s interrogation of Elder Holland:

John Sweeney: “Joseph Smith got these papyri, and he translated them, and subsequently as the Egyptologists cracked the code, [it's] something completely different.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: “All I’m saying is what got translated got translated into the word of God. The vehicle for that, I do not understand and don’t claim to know, and know no Egyptian.”
(from John Sweeney’s BBC documentary, “This World: The Mormon Candidate.”)

I think Elder Holland’s epistemic humility, combined with his affirmation that the account represents the word of God to the Latter-day Saints, provides sufficient common ground upon which a variety of perspectives on the Book of Abraham can be discussed. Elder Holland affirms the work as the “word of God,” and by bringing up his lack of knowledge of Egyptian he implies that academic tools may be utilized, but that they are not the preeminent consideration when it comes to revelatory texts. That is where the Maxwell Institute is situated, also recognizing that we are only part of a wider conversation on these things.

I hope this is specific enough to resolve the concerns that have been raised because I don’t plan to respond to all the peripheral questions.

Take care.

This type of evasive response is simultaneously and intentionally both revealing and concealing.  Let’s take his statements one at a time:

Cynthia L. is correct when she says (below): “it looks like Blair Hodges was simply noting that just because MI publishes an author’s article, doesn’t mean that author speaks for MI or represents its official position. I understand that’s slightly different from what Blair wrote, but it certainly seems (to me) to be what he meant.”

That is right, and from what I understand, it isn’t a policy change.

Notice that Blair originally said “the Maxwell Institute as such has no official position on the Book of Abraham.”  He wants us to now understand him to mean that the Institute has no official position about  the interpretations of two particular authors ABOUT the BOA.   Of course, no one ever assumed the Institute would.  Everyone assumes that what the Institute publishes represents the views of the author, but not necessarily the Institute nor the University nor the Church, just like any other entity or journal.  The Institute having no position on the BOA is something quite different than having no position on whether Professor X’s interpretation of the BOA is accurate.  These are two entirely different things.

After quoting a statement from Elder Holland, Blair goes on:

I think Elder Holland’s epistemic humility, combined with his affirmation that the account represents the word of God to the Latter-day Saints, provides sufficient common ground upon which a variety of perspectives on the Book of Abraham can be discussed.

Notice, Elder Holland actually said: “All I’m saying is what got translated got translated into the word of God.”  This affirms 1- that the text is translated, and 2- that it is the word of God.  Blair, however, subtly changes what Elder Holland actually said: “account represents the word of God to the Latter-day Saints.”  Blair adds the phrase “to the Latter-day Saints.”  That’s essentially like saying that the Qur’an is the “word of God to the Muslims” and the Bhagavad-Gita is the “word of God to the Hindus.”  It is a sociological tautology that anyone can agree with.  But it tells us nothing about the nature of the BOA, nor the Institute’s position on it.

Finally, Blair states:

I hope this is specific enough to resolve the concerns that have been raised because I don’t plan to respond to all the peripheral questions.

Hardly.  I’m looking for forthright clarity.  What I get is Public Relation spin.

Here are my questions again.  Readers can decide for themselves if Blair clarified matters or further obscured them.

Does the statement that “the Maxwell Institute as such has no official position on the Book of Abraham” mean that it has:

No official position on Abrahamic authorship Book of Abraham?

No official position on the historicity of the Book of Abraham?

No official position on antiquity of the Book of Abraham?

No official position on the relationship of the Book of Abraham to the papyri?

No official position on the authenticity  of the Book of Abraham?

No official position on the scriptural status of the Book of Abraham?

No official position on the production of the Book of Abraham?

No official position on what Joseph Smith claimed about the Book of Abraham?

Does the Maxwell Institute have an official position on some of these questions, but not on others?  If so, which ones, and what positions?

And if the Maxwell Institute has no official position on the Book of Abraham, does it also have no official position on the Book of Mormon?

By not actually clarifying his statement, Blair is tacitly telling us that, in fact, the Maxwell Institute has “no official position” on any of my questions.  That is, at least, helpful clarity.

4 thoughts on “The Official Position is That There is No Official Position

    • I have nothing to do with MI. They can take any position they want. I simply want them to actually TAKE a position, and clearly and unambiguously explain what it is. It’s actually really easy to do.

  1. Bill quoth:

    He wants us to now understand him to mean that the Institute has no official position about the interpretations of two particular authors ABOUT the BOA. Of course, no one ever assumed the Institute would.,

    In fact, some might think they did since David Bokovoy announced that he had been officially asked to reply to material produced by John Gee and Kerry Muhlestein:

    I wanted to share that I have been officially invited to provide a response to the two recent MI Book of Abraham articles by two different representatives from the Institute. If accepted, this critique would appear on their official blog.

    That is what I assumed, I confess, when I read David’s announcement.

    Blair Hodges has since told me that David was simply mistaken in this and was never invited or planned to prepare anything for the Maxwell Institute blog. He was simply asked, I am told, to give his opinion privately to Hodges and one other person at MI.

    I find it a bit strange that David would be so confused as to mistake (a) a private request for his opinion that was in no way intimated that it would be published, with (b) two “official invitations” to respond, with the critique to then appear on the MI blog.

    This seems, to me, implausible.

    I would find it far more likely that David received the invitation substantially as he reported it, and that wiser or cooler heads later decided that this was a bad idea. The deletion of David’s announcement without any explanation would seem to support an alternative version of events.

    But, that’s the account we’ve been given.

    So, readers might be forgiven for concluding that the current MI–or some person(s) of influence within it–does have an official stance or strongly preferred view that Gee and Muhlestein somehow violated, and he/she/they aren’t happy to have the Gee/Muhlestein approach given publicity and publication inches. Hence the solicitation (if Bokovoy’s account is to be believed) of “response.”

    Granted, Gentile scholars will likely be far less keen about an Institute that pushes or publishes the Gee/Muhlestein version, versus the Bokovoy approach. They are not likely to favor the former, whatever its merits, since it has religious implications that are unacceptable to most of the academy.

  2. Several aspects of this constant inquisitorial hectoring make me very uncomfortable and somewhat sad, even though I do not at all approve of the direction which the Maxwell Institute has taken:
    (1) The fait accompli at MI has not been accepted by some, even though there are other available venues for academic expression.
    (2) Whether interpreted as an example of the pathetic fallacy, I find it absurd to demand that an institution such as MI take any sort of official position — as though it is some sort of anthropomorphic being. Individual humans take positions and debate the issues. Wouldn’t it be better to ask who supports which theories, and for which reasons? Isn’t there a need here for a little more “epistemic humility”?
    (3) There seems to be present in all of this a lack of kindness, generosity, cordiality, and brotherhood, even if the “other” side is always the offending party (or seems so). I don’t mind “telling truth to power,” but is it now time to move on?
    Bob

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