The Interpreter Stumbles over the JSPP

Since it’s inception (at Olive Garden ;>) in 2012 the Interpreter has published an article or book review every Friday. That’s over 300 pieces of “scholarship”! Among the publications are a number of high quality pieces. The vast majority of things they publish though, are mediocre at best; and far too many of their publications are just downright embarrassing for Latter-day Saints. We ran a couple of posts two years ago, for instance, on Duane Boyce’s 122 page “review” of the work of Terryl Givens, Patrick Mason, and Grant Hardy. To repeat what I said on one of those posts: Givens, et. al are not above critique, but what Boyce offers is not thoughtful critique. His aim is to say what is necessary to steer others away from them—to erode confidence in them as sources of faithful scholarship; all the while denying this is what he’s doing. This is, as a matter of fact, a repeated M.O. at the Interpreter; they poison the well that other faithful scholars have dug. It’s now two years since Boyce’s earlier piece, and he is still publishing these reviews.

Their latest attempt to poison the well is to discredit the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Gee’s review of the latest volume points out hundreds of “errors.” Gee concludes, “Producing it incorrectly is arguably worse than not producing it at all.” While notably different from Boyce’s tactics, Gee is still bombastic, condemning, and aghast in his rhetoric. The problem, though, is that Gee is wrong. The vast majority of the “errors” are interpretational choices that align with the style guide detailed in the front of every volume. Gee neither understands the style guide nor leaves room for alternate readings of documents that he has no training to read. Indeed, while he is a trained Egyptologist, and the volume does deal with the Book of Abraham among other related things, he has no training in 19th century documentary history. I suspect that all of this plays a role as to why even BYU Studies refused to publish Gee’s review. Now the Interpreter has removed all original comments on the review and has added a number of significant edits to the review. See if you can guess which of these two sentences is a new addition:

“It is regrettable that although The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints counts several faithful Egyptologists among its membership, the editors deliberately chose not to involve them in any serious way. It is true that two of that number were given a month to peer review the volume and some of their suggestions were accepted, but no photographs were included in what was reviewed, nor did the Egyptologists see the appendix on the Egyptian characters.”

To my knowledge this is the first time the Interpreter has made substantive edits to a published paper. I suspect that there are authorities in either SLC or BYU that have pressured them to do this.

Articles at the Interpreter are supposedly peer reviewed, meaning that other scholars vet the quality of the work. This is usually done by removing the names of the authors so that scholars will judge the work on its merits. The names of reviewers are also usually withheld. The Interpreter, however, does not remove the names of the authors. This facilitates a system where people that are a part of the in-group have an easier time publishing their work. You can tell a lot about a journal by who they ask to do the peer review. For the Interpreter this is mostly a small group of the same folks, many of which do not have the proper training to vet quality scholarship. Imagine spending decades of your life to master a discipline, and then after submitting your work to a journal, a person who’s been interested in it as hobby (or perhaps is still a young undergraduate) peer reviews it. This would never happen at a respectable journal, but this kind of thing does happen at the Interpreter (and this is one reason why those with proper training for the most part do not submit their work there).None of this is surprising given that the founder of the Interpreter has barely published any peer-reviewed work in his field over his 40+ year career (I can’t find more than six articles and one book). This would not meet the standards at any institution that BYU sees as a peer; and it is an embarrassment for many at BYU.

As I’ve said in a previous post, the truth of the matter is that the Interpreter is to scholarship what McDonalds is to fine dining. Both create fast and tasty items for consumption, and if consumed in moderation both have a few decent things to offer. But anyone expecting quality scholarship from the Interpreter is more likely to see a Mc Filet Mignon in a drive thru near them.

Not even at BYU, where professors must publish research to be promoted (and gain BYU’s version of tenure), does publishing with the Interpreter count toward their research requirements. And even the College of Religious Education’s new Continuing Faculty Status guidelines rule out places like the Interpreter as an academic publishing outlet. The Interpreter might be run by faithful men (where are the women?) who on occasion publish decent scholarship, but “scholarship” such as Boyce’s (and Gee’s) serve as a reminder why the Interpreter is not considered scholarship by the larger community of scholars. Bad scholarship is not, indeed cannot be, faithful scholarship.

50 Replies to “The Interpreter Stumbles over the JSPP”

  1. SmallAxe,

    First off, thanks for the post. I generally agree with many of the points you are making. Yet in so doing, you fall prey to the same types of mistakes you condemn Gee and others for!

    If you re-read your post as objectively as you can, you will see some of the following in your own writing:

    – Bombastic rhetoric.
    – Attributing nefarious motivations to others that you could not possibly objectively know, since they are internal states of consciousness of other human beings. (E.g., attempt to poison the well…)
    – Unfounded allegations (e.g., “I suspect that…”)
    – Ad hominem, insults, etc. (“None of this is surprising given that the founder of the Interpreter has barely published any peer-reviewed work in his field over his 40+ year career…”)

    Need I go on? Based on these problems and more, it would be fair to indict you on the same grounds as you indicted Boyce – for not offering “a thoughtful critique,” in your words.

    Yes, this is a blog post rather than a journal article. But this blog holds itself out as one written by academics for those with an academic bent. You only had to avoid these errors in a your masterpiece of 912 words–not 100+ pages as Boyce’s article! And yet you didn’t.

    In short, don’t just tell us how thoughtful critiques are supposed to occur; show us! And certainly don’t repeat the same mistakes that you publicly condemn in others.

    1. As you note, this is a blog, not an academic journal. Different styles of argumentation are appropriate for different venues. You can find thoughtful critiques here, and you can find some snark. We’ve never pretended it was anything more than a blog. If those involved with the Interpreter want to position the Interpreter as an academic journal they need to behave in a way that meets those standards. They do not do that, as we’ve pointed out before. I make no pretense that FPR is an academic journal, and therefore I have no obligation to behave according to the standards of an academic journal. Sorry to disappoint.

      We’ve been blogging at FPR for nearly 15 years. Browse through the past posts. You’ll find plenty of thoughtful critiques (you can start with the post on Boyce linked in the OP). I’ve grown impatient with the Interpreter folks. No critique seems to sink in; regardless of how politely it’s offered. Sometimes the unvarnished truth is the best recipe.

    1. This seems about as constructive feedback as most of the responses by Fox News anchors to Jon Stewart when he was still with the Daily Show.

  2. Joseph Smith: The World’s Greatest Guesser was published May 3 2019. It may be the best example of pseudoscience published this century anywhere, if granting Interpreter to be more than a blog as it claims to be. It was torn to shreds in the Interpreter comment section and elsewhere about the web for weeks after appearing, and then the shreds were each, individually, torn further into smaller shreds until what remained was so fine that it wouldn’t even be fit for mulch to feed a starving plant.

    It was the ultimate victory for anyone irritated by the supreme overconfidence of the FARMS crowd and FARMS-style scholarship. But get this, Smallaxe, after 27 days of continuous shredding, the same founder that you mentioned plugged the article in LDSLiving in a moderate-length article.

    It appears to me the JSPP seeks to accomplish a goal and has adopted standards already in practice to reach that goal. In my opinion, Interpreter isn’t really out to accomplish anything in particular. To borrow the words of the apologists’ favorite philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, Interpreter has no “research paradigm”. Do you have a Phd? Check. Are you willing to make a case that Joseph Smith couldn’t have done it? check.

    If those two boxes are checked, good luck *stopping* the paper from being published. Allegedly, the Guesser paper had been in review for an entire year. It’s unfathomable. Unless, of course, you see the bigger picture that Interpreter is more like an expanded version of Mormon Scholars Testify. So far, it’s been a bunch of pet projects, no real conversations, nothing that I can see going anywhere (I’m open to correction). With the exception of the aforementioned paper, it’s most popular articles are mudballs thrown at the new MI.

    If there’s any tradition behind it, it’s the one that says “Look at all these folks with Phds who believe the Book of Mormon is true”. Again, it’s MST 1.1.

  3. Excellent opening post and comments. These is an additional detail that I think is worth pointing out: i.e., that publications in the old “FARMS Review” *did* use to count towards a person’s CV requirements: there is an endnote about the deal that was hammered out in the second of Quinn’s “Mormon Hierarchy” books. Publications in the “Review” *did* count for Dan Peterson, however, they didn’t for Bill Hamblin! Hamblin wrote an exceptionally bitter post about it on his now-defunct blog, “Enigmatic Mirror.”

    But those old “standards”–i.e., accepting Mopologetic drivel from the “FARMS Review” as “legitimate” research, has apparently been completely blasted from BYU. Publishing with the “Mormon Studies Review,” would, of course, count. But now, it would seem, every last department at BYU has brought the axe down on Mopologetics.

    I hope, smallaxe, that you saw Peterson’s recent post concerning the undesirable teaching time that he was assigned by his home department. What do you want to bet that his colleagues are fed up with the non-scholarly crap that he’s been doing all these years?

    1. Since the Coordinator for Middle Eastern Studies is teaching at an even worse time slot than Dr. Peterson (4:30-5:45), I doubt the accuracy of your schadenfreude-based explanation.

    2. There’s no need for speculation — let alone for conspiratorial theorizing — about the relatively late time of my MESA 250 class (“Introduction to the Religion of Islam”) this term.

      Our students are required to take a variety of classes in several departments (e.g., Humanities, Asian and Near Eastern Languages, History, Anthropology) in order to complete Arabic and Middle East Studies-Arabic majors. We try to work out an overall schedule that minimizes conflicts and that, thereby, reduces problems for the students in getting the courses that they need.

      This semester, my MESA 250 class is a bit later than usual, but that’s no big deal. It’s certainly neither indicative of a crisis nor an sign of strife within the program. Under the leadership of whoever happens to be the Middle East Studies-Arabic coordinator at a given time, the relevant faculty consult with one another in formulating the schedule and we do the best that we can. I was, as I always have been, involved in the decisions regarding my course schedule.

      1. LOL! It’s certainly been a long time, hasn’t it, Dr. Peterson? (Assuming that it’s actually you; I guess we’d need an accompanying post on SeN to prove it, eh?) It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that this is the thing that’s lured you out. Why don’t you just admit upfront that “N.W. Clerk” was a sock puppet of yours? (Readers who are wondering what is up should refer to this thread: )

        It’s too late to retract the fact that you complained about this publicly. What did you think that would accomplish? Did you think the “coordinator” would be pressured/”tricked” (or bullied? Did Midgley, Kiwi, and the others email this poor person?) into giving you a new time? And the final paragraph you offer above is incomprehensible. If you were “involved in the decisions regarding [your] course schedule,” then you wouldn’t have been assigned an “undesirable” time. Right? Your initial post certainly didn’t portray this as some kind of “egalitarian” decision.

        Look: you’ve been scooped. At some point, you’re just going to have to admit that you’ve been at war for more than 40 years. Your “enemy” wants to beat you as much as you want to beat him. And you know that: it’s a fundamental part of your theology. But you just aren’t strong enough, I’m afraid.

        P.s.: please tell Dr. Midgley that he’s a horrible, inexorable excuse for a human being.

        1. Yes, it’s been a long time. You’ve been posting pseudonymous attacks on me pretty much daily over at your home board for something on the order of fifteen years now.

          No — for the record — I didn’t post as “N. W. Clerk,” though I do like the allusion to C. S. Lewis in that name.

          You regard (or claim to regard) everything I say as a lie, so there’s no point in interacting with you further.

          1. DCP: “Yes, it’s been a long time. You’ve been posting pseudonymous attacks on me pretty much daily over at your home board for something on the order of fifteen years now.”

            Now, that’s not true at all. There have been long stints of time–months, actually–where I didn’t post anything at all. The same cannot be said concerning your daily assaults on Gemli, though, can it?

            DCP: “No — for the record — I didn’t post as “N. W. Clerk,” though I do like the allusion to C. S. Lewis in that name.’

            Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s not. I prefer to withhold final judgment on the matter at this time.

            DCP: “You regard (or claim to regard) everything I say as a lie, so there’s no point in interacting with you further.”

            Where have I ever said such a thing? That’s not what I believe at all, though some of the items in this most recent comment from you would certainly help to support that imaginary thought.

            It’s been very pleasant chatting with you. I hope you have a productive and enlightening term at BYU–particularly if the rumors turn out to be true.

  4. Was the coordinator also publicly bellyaching about an “even worse time slot”? I am more than happy to be proven wrong, and am glad to admit that I was speculating. Here’s the thing, though: the Coordinator would presumably get to assign his/her/their *own* time slot, no? So, how likely is it that the Coordinator–in assigning his/her/their own time slot–would deliberately choose a time that he/she/they found undesirable? Don’t we kind of have to grant the fact that “undesirable” is subjective? It may very well be that the Coordinator *wants* a later teaching time. We don’t know one way or the other, and you claiming that the Coordinator’s time slot is “worse”–and your concurrent assumption that the Coordinator him/her/theirself would consider it so–is speculation, too. Whatever the case may be, we *do* know with a certainty that Daniel Peterson feels that the time he was assigned is “unusually late.”

    If you have a better explanation as to why Peterson was given an “unusually late” teaching time, I’d love to hear it.

  5. And here we go again with the DCP hate club where the “interlocutors” do their best to hide and pretend to be saying something that has merit while bad mouthing DCP. Please grow up, get the hell off of these personal attacks and get a life. This kind of invective is beneath even SmallAxe. Jensen and Hauglid’s treatment of the KEP and related papers is abominable and the fact that only one POV is expressed — a rather Dan Vogel like POV that any responsible scholar should know better than to parrot — tells us everything we need to know about their “scholarship”.

    And Dr. Scratch — really? Airing your petty jealousies in public is just childish. Your antics here are pathetic and explain why I stayed as far away from academia as I could. You do know that Dr. Midgely has passed, right? Truly you are disgusting.

    And as iffy as some of the stuff published by the Interpreter may be, at least it isn’t totally insomnia curing drivel that we get here.

    1. Hello there, Blake.

      Is it really true that Dr. Midgley has passed? He posted on “Sic et Non” scarcely 4 minutes ago. I guess you stand corrected?

      In any event, it would have been simpler if you had simply written “Shut up!”

  6. And I don’t think Dr. Scratch is involved in academia. If s/he was he’d know that scheduling classes is complicated and a class at a less convenient time is not necessarily a punishment. It is sad though that the only thing Dan finds worthy of responding to is his malevolent stalker.

  7. Blake,

    Where did you get your information that Louis Midgley died?

    I think your rumors of Louis Midgley’s passing have been greatly exaggerated. Much like the statistics in the Dales’ Interpreter Article.

  8. Really you are like a bunch of kids arguing over who has the best popsicle.

    I meant that Midgley had passed from the scholarly scene at BYU; Not that he died. I can see how my statement was confusing.

    SmallAxe you are wrong about your public speculation about why Gee was not published in BYU Studies. You are wrong that Interpreter does not make changes to published papers or that this is the first time corrections have occurred. You are wrong that other scholarly journals do not disclose the names of authors of papers for review (though we can agree that it is a bad practice).

    Rather than write a 20 page critique on blog, let me say that I am largely in agreement with this review by Jeff Lindsay especially related to the errors in dating mss. and failing to take into the account the impact of Joseph’s study of Hebrew.

    1. Lies. Just admit that you got Louis mixed up with John Tvedtnes and move on. You did not mean that he “passed from the scholarly scene,” that was the topic and that undermines your argument that Scratch was being disgusting. That only makes any sense if you thought he had died.

    2. Blake,

      “failing to take into the account the impact of Joseph’s study of Hebrew. ”

      I think you are poorly informed here. It is the impact of the Hebrew lexicons which were purchased in Nov 1835, after Gee’s proposed translation timeline, that impacted the translation of the Book of Abraham. You may want to talk to Mathew Grey about this before continuing to defend a theory that is not viable.
      It’s Gee’s “scholarship” that is problematic.

  9. Yakov — you are just full of shit to suggest that I am lying and did not know what I meant. Let me know who you are so that I can see who I am dealing with you coward. Telling DCP to let Midgely know that he is a terrible human being is beyond the pale. That you sanction such antics is truly sickening to me. I love how y’all act like 2 year olds to gang up on DCP and fuss over the kind of crap that really makes you look pathetic.

  10. Yakov ben Coward: BTW I am well aware that Midgley did not die because I spoke with him recently. If you think that I was thinking of Tvedtnes then you are total dolt. Those of us doing philosophy have our disagreements, but I have never seen such childish antics among my peers.

  11. Blake:

    It looks painfully obvious that you made a mistake about Dr. Midgely’s death. Too bad this site won’t allow edits. Why not just own up to it and move on?

  12. “And as iffy as some of the stuff published by the Interpreter may be,…”

    A rousing endorsement of the Interpreter right there from Blake Ostler himself.

  13. This thread got out of control (and sidetracked). I’ve deleted what I’ve deemed to be comments that were irrelevant or beyond the pale.

  14. I desire to know identities because I have a deep seated belief in personal accountability for actions. I want to know who says such nasty things and let others know how loathsome some commenting here.truly are. I have already learned 2 identities. One used a vpn but it was easy to crack because they used the same moniker before the vpn. I was not surprised and I think those who deal with them will be quite interested in their conduct and comments here and elsewhere.

    Giancono I have been dealing with blow Hard’s like you for a long time and I am sure that there are no issues, sources, or arguments dealing with my faith that I have not considered in depth – and extremely likely greater depth and acumen than you could. However I have come to expect unsupported attacks on my faith @ FPR. It is the norm. The difference is that you are so blatantly express about it – and do so with greater bluster and less basis.

  15. Anonymous: I am not relying on Gee’s scholarship regarding the priority of Hebrew regarding the GAEL and KEP because I have done my own study. I believe (with some exceptions) that Lindsay gets it essentially correct. As a result the assumed dates of production are simply erroneous in the JSPP.

    1. Blake,

      Yes I did.

      Did you actually read my question?

      I am not asking about the influences the lexicons had on the KEP, I am asking about the influences they had on the actual text of the Book of Abraham.

      Think about it. If it can be shown that any of the lexicons influenced the text we find in the Book of Abraham, especially after Abr 2:18, then that text must post date when the lexicons were used by Smith.

  16. “One used a vpn but it was easy to crack because they used the same moniker before the vpn. ”

    Mr. Ostler, as an attorney whose practice includes cyber-crime defense, I sincerely hope you didn’t do this. If FPR was so inclined, they could pursue criminal and civil actions against you.

    Your actions could be in violation of several state and federal statutes. Publicly admitting your actions certainly doesn’t help your case. Good luck to you.

  17. Good Sirs,

    Shall the arrangements be made for debate upon the board of the Mormons Discussion, I would like to request, ah, ‘dibs’ shall we say, to use language congruent with my zest for a good mental tussle, on the first round. The subject shall be the scholarly paper referenced in our present topic written by Egyptian language expert, Jeff Lindsay, on the topic of the Abraham, and published in the peer-reviewed journal, Interpreter.

    Good Sirs, I am not a linguist, and so you’ve got me at a disadvantage, but I don’t mind an uphill climb. To tell a little about myself, I am Professor Lemming. I hold a Doctorate degree in Theology from Oxford University. I taught for many years at Cambridge. If you haven’t guessed it, I’m an avowed anglophile. My credentials, my acumen and my worthiness as a debate opponent can be verified by the scholars who write at the Sic et Non discussion board. Dr. Midgley and Dr. Kiwi57 know my work well and will vouch for me, I am certain.

    Good Sirs, shall the terms of my offer be accepted, I shall register an account at this Mormons conversation arena.

    Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to take a peek at this article up for review. Ah yes, there we go. Oh yes. Very interesting. Oh my, I may need to fetch my reading glasses, as this document is quite lengthy. Yes, eh hum, it’s a little heavy on the introductions, I was hoping to find out what the paper was about in short order, but…indeed.

    Good Sirs, perhaps I posited my challenge hastily, but a man of my word, I shall do my best to honor our agreement. I shall be ‘ready to rumble’ as the young people like to say, by Tuesday evening. I will be asking the weekend to get through this.

    Good Sirs, I bid you a pleasant evening.

    1. Professor Lemming! My heavens, it’s so nice to see you here. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed your role on “Sic et Non.” Your presence there has truly elevated the quality of that normally abysmal “blog.” I will look forward to seeing you on!

  18. Blake Ostler, for you to praise Lindsay’s essay and his discussion of Hebrew in GAEL tells me you don’t know what you are talking about because Lindsay certainly doesn’t. Gee tried to date the GAEL to early 1836 by arguing that the GAEL shows knowledge of Seixas’ transliteration system, but so far no one can show it. Now, Lindsay want to date it to late November 1835 when Cowdery arrived with the Hebrew books. The problem is that the knowledge of Hebrew goes little beyond the Hebrew Alphabet. Besides, W. W. Phelps was involved and could have helped.

    Some try to argue that the presence of Hebrew proves WWP wrote the GAEL, but those who date it to 1836 must allow for JS’s authorship. Can’t have it both ways.

    WWP probably helped write the entries in the History of the Church in 1843 that date the Alphabets and at least the beginning of the bound GAEL to July 1835. The part of the GAEL (the end) that describes the Egyptian astronomy coincides with JS’s journal entry for 1 Oct. 1835. These entries also have WWP assigning authorship of the GAEL to Smith. Gee doesn’t quote these passages, but he does try to argue that the entire BofA was translated in July 1835 without giving a reference, but the only source to mention translating some of the characters is the HC.

    Lindsay went on and on about the Hebrew influence on the GAEL, even arguing that the lines for the five degrees and dots (Iota) were influenced by Hebrew vowel signs. However, the lines probably came from the papyri and the dots were not meant to be dots on the papyri but JS and Co. interpreted the flaking of the ink as dots.

    The old Nibley apologetic that the GAEL was written by JS’s scribes in an effort to reverse engineer JS translation of Abraham is dead. It was born out of ignorance of the actual documents and is maintained by Gee and Muhlestein, neither of whom know what they are doing when it comes to the English documents.

    The Lindsay essay is a complete mess from beginning to end. His explanation for the two text of Abraham 1:4-2:6 being written simultaneously at JS’s dictation, that Parrish was copying from a complete text of Abraham while reading the same out loud so that F. G. Williams could make a copy as well, is complete nonsense. In his explanation of how we get several in-line corrections in both manuscripts shows that he doesn’t know what a visual mistake is (dittography or haplography). Lindsay is no better than Gee and Muhlestein for inventing the worst kind of apologetic.

  19. Good Sirs,

    I am disheartened. I’m having great difficulty getting through my reading assignment – I’m still on the first paragraph of Mr. Lindsay’s paper. Perhaps Mr. Vogal would be better suited than myself for a first-round respondent? I fear it may take a fortnight to wade through the entire bog, as the young ones fondly say.

    On another note, good sirs, a dear friend of mine, a colleague from my Cambridge days, Dr. Dreamboat, alerted me to an important scholarly paper right up my alley, and so I locked up my flat and headed me down to the University Library. There, I picked up an old copy of Religious Studies, and perused an article by our mutual colleague called “Worshipworthiness and the Mormon Concept of God”. Good sirs, I must confess that I found this paper fascinating, as it expands upon my own scholarship.

    For those unfamiliar with my Doctoral Dissertation, it is called, “The Peterhouse College event and it’s implications for post-patristic ontology”. Good sirs, the story goes something like this. I was out and about Oxford campus as a graduate student, troubled over the many different paths I might pursue, and so I traveled to Cambridge to visit a dear friend, Thomas Dre, and after a rowdy night on the town, I sought some quiet time in the courtyard of Peterhouse College. Well, imagine to my surprise, there he was, right there, standing at the center. god! I had my camera with me with a clean row of flash, and I snapped a picture of him before he could escape. I got the rascal. People had believed throughout human history, but now there was proof, thanks to yours truly. The pictures were confirmed authentic by London’s highest technical experts and then freighted to Germany, and all found agreement. I submitted the photos, along with the bad news, to the Doctoral Committee that “God is dead”. I was awarded my degree with top marks.

    Back to our colleague, he writes:

    “Howsepian uses God throughout his article as if it were synonymous with divine person. Because there are many divine persons whom Mormons call gods, he concludes that Mormons appear to believe in many gods. However, Howsepian simply ignores Mormonism’s well established doctrine of the unity and oneness of the Godhead and of all divine persons.”

    Yes! Only, I didn’t know there were so many of them! We appear to agree that it equivocates to say that “God”, as in the (now falsified) being some modal logicians still say must exist, also means “God”, as in the non-substance-division-nor-separating-of-many-persons foremost, material representative of whom I got on film! Please folks, get with the times.

    Good Sirs, I must take leave. Dr. Midgley has requested peer review on some comments and then I’m off to my exercise wheel.

    1. “I am disheartened. I’m having great difficulty getting through my reading assignment – I’m still on the first paragraph of Mr. Lindsay’s paper. Perhaps Mr. Vogal would be better suited than myself for a first-round respondent? I fear it may take a fortnight to wade through the entire bog, as the young ones fondly say.” – Professor Lemming

      Lindsay’s article is a slog for sure. Not only for its length—a full 91 pages—but because at times it is as if he were thinking out loud. Where were the editors? Interpreter is not only peer reviewed, it doesn’t seem to be edited either.

      The whole section 7 of his article (pp. 87-88) could be cut. In this section, Lindsay wonders if JS’s handwriting has been correctly identified, without giving a reason, and complains that the transcriptions on the JSP website and in the book are sometimes different. Perhaps Lindsay wants people to think that there is a question about Joseph Smith’s participation in creating the Egyptian Alphabets, because Gee’s attempt to make it appear that JS was only half-heartedly following Phelps or that JS merely copied from Phelps and Cowdery is a complete failure.

  20. In Part 1 (pp. 21-24), Lindsay complains that Nibley’s work was not utilized by Jensen and Hauglid. “Yet Nibley is cited zero times compared to at least 49 citations of Ritner.” (23) Lindsay doesn’t get the difference between Nibley’s writings and Ritner’s. Nibley was not an Egyptologist. Ritner is. If, as Gee insisted in his review, Jensen and Hauglid can’t comment on things Egyptian, neither can Nibley. For sure, Nibley didn’t describe the papyri from a mainstream Egyptological standpoint. Nibley’s Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, for example, is not useful to Egyptologists. Using Ritner rather than Gee or Muhlestein removes suspicion of apologetically tainted opinion. Nibley’s 1971 essay in BYU Studies—“The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers”—was preliminary and outdated, although Gee and Muhlestein continue his missing papyri and reverse translation apologetic.

  21. In Part 2 (pp. 24-34), Lindsay criticizes Jensen and Hauglid for not being balanced and being more critical than apologetic. Basically, he refuses to accept the explanation that apologetics was outside the purpose of the JSP project. He even suggests that they smuggle Mormon apologetics into their work, so that it lends “first aid” to members and undermines critical points of view but in such a way as to not provoke non-Mormon scholars to label their book as apologetic.

    He criticizes them for “hint[ing] that at least part of the Book of Abraham was produced from the GAEL,” but not mentioning the reverse translation theory (pp. 24-25). Lindsay sakes, “why not open the door to the possibility proposed by other scholars that the GAEL was derived in part from the existing translated text?” (p. 25) Why refer to the works of those who refuse to let a bad theory die?

    The problem with the reverse translation theory is that the GAEL isn’t about the Book of Abraham. The characters in the margins of the BofA manuscripts come from JSP XI, or were invented to fill gaps in the damaged papyrus. Whereas the characters in the GAEL come from the Amenhotep papyrus (copied into the Valuable Discovery notebooks), Ta-sherit-Min papyrus, the pure language, and the vertical columns that flank Fac. 1 on JSP I. These characters are interspersed with invented or derivative characters. So there is no way that the KEP can be explained as coming from JS’s translation of the BofA.

    Moreover, a close examination of the content of JS’s Egyptian documents, together with historical sources, shows the order and time of their creations. There was some overlap, but the chronology is basically as follows: Valuable Discovery notebooks > Egyptian Alphabets > GAEL > BofA.

    The GAEL does contain material that was later used in the BofA, but the origin of that material was not the BofA but what was known as the epitaph of Katumin and the record of Joseph (aka Ta-sherit-Min papyrus). Part 1 of the Alphabets, which was expanded in part 1 of the GAEL, explains why the records of the Hebrew patriarchs were found with Egyptian mummies. In the process, it is stated that Katumin descended from the daughter of Ham, who discovered Egypt while it was still under water, presumably from the Flood. This information gets dropped into the text of Abraham, along with similar characters that coincide with a missing portion of JSP XI.

    Do Gee and Muhlestein discuss any of this? No. They have merely asserted the reverse translation theory without any supportive arguments or evidence. Since there is no direct relationship between the GAEL and the text of Abraham, there is no need to have the entire BofA translated before the GAEL.

  22. Continuing my response to Lindsay’s Part 2 (pp. 24-34), Lindsay makes this incredible statement: “If the goal is not to promote faith, neither should it unnecessarily undermine it. Subjective bias that supports positions that can undermine faith and weaken respect for the scriptures must be avoided. Cited scholarship and perspectives on the complex interpretative issues around the KEP must not actively exclude and ignore relevant scholarship that refutes or undermines key positions of critics of the Church” (pp. 26-27).

    Lindsay seems to suggest that Jensen and Hauglid protect members by self-censorship, while at the same time include material that undermines the critics. Here we see that Lindsay is not really interested in balance but is simply an apologist. If Jensen and Hauglid did as he suggested, then they would be obligated to include critical viewpoint as well to avoid criticism, and that would be a very different book.

    Lindsay should seriously question his assumption that a rejection of Nibley’s old reverse translation theory undermines faith. It doesn’t. Apologists are not infallible and their theories are not dogma. If the theory is bad, you don’t keep performing “first aid” on it, you discard it and look for a better one.

    Lindsay demonstrates that he doesn’t know what he is talking about when he writes: “In fact, for the GAEL and the Egyptian Alphabet documents, one can examine the characters, their definitions, and the existence of any apparently related glyphs on the key existing scroll (Fragment of Breathing Permit for Horus-A), and see that, of the 62 characters assigned a meaning, only four (2.32, 2.41, 2.42, and 3.11) have a clear connection to a character on the papyrus, with three more characters (2.36, 2.40, and 3.15) possibly, but with less certainty, being found on the papyrus” (pp. 30-31).

    As previously explained, the Alphabets and GAEL do not relate to the BofA, which was taken from JSP XI. Whereas part 1 of the Alphabets and part 1 of the GAEL were taken from the Amenhotep papyrus and the Ta-sherit-Min papyrus. Part 2 begins with the pure language, and then copies from column 3 of JSP I, with derivative characters scattered between copied characters. Lindsay thinks this is a problem for the critics, arguing with Gee: “This raises serious questions about the purpose and use of these documents and calls into question claims that Joseph was using them to create the Book of Abraham as a translation from an existing papyrus fragment” (31). However, the critics do not need to see the GAEL as showing how JS translated the BofA, only that it shows JS incorrectly translating specific characters, but the apologists’ reverse-translation theory demands that the GAEL have a direct relationship to the BofA.

    The reverse-translation theory is not simply a different way of looking at the evidence, it totally untenable to maintain once one understands the documents.

  23. In Part 3 (34-58), Lindsay criticizes Jensen and Hauglid for assuming work on the Egyptian project ended when JS began studying Hebrew under Joshua Seixas in January 1836, arguing that there are clear signs of Hebrew influence in the GAEL and therefore Jensen and Hauglid are wrong to date it to “circa July-circa November 1835.”

    Lindsay believes that evidence of Hebrew influence in the GAEL necessarily dates it to after the arrival of Cowdery with Hebrew lexicons, dictionaries, and lesson books on 20 November 1835, and therefore Jensen and Hauglid “may need to be revised to later dates more in line with the dates previously proposed by John Gee (e.g., Oct. 29, 1835 to April
    1836 for documents in the handwriting of Warren Parrish)” (p. 35). Actually, Gee dates the GAEL to “Between January and April 1835” (Gee, Introduction, 33), because he incorrectly argued that “The system of transliteration that Phelps used in the [Grammar] book follows the transliteration system taught by Josiah [Joshua] Seixas beginning in January of 1836” (Gee, “Joseph Smith and Ancient Egypt,” in Approaching Antiquity, 440-41). To his credit, Lindsay questions Gee’s assertion (pp. 42-43) but instead argues that the GAEL was written in late November-December 1835, after the arrival of the books but before lessons with Seixas. This is because he recognizes that Hebrew influence on the GAEL is rudimentary, not going much beyond knowledge of the alphabet or a “very basic study of Hebrew.”

    The problem with this timeline is that it requires very limited time for JS (or Phelps) to study Hebrew on his own, workout the “Egyptian Counting,” and dictate the entire GAEL. It also requires Lindsay to dismiss the entry in the History of the Church, written probably with JS’s and/or Phelps’ help, which dates the beginning of the Alphabets and GAEL to the latter part of July 1835, as well as the entry in JS’s journal mentioning working on the Egyptian alphabet and the unfolding of the system of astronomy, which appears at the end of the GAEL.

    While there is some evidence of a rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew, Lindsay knows that it’s not enough to date the GAEL to after 20 November 1835. So he makes the astonishing claim that “one can readily find evidence of a more extensive impact of Hebrew study on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, even to the point of being able to pinpoint specific content in some Hebrew books as potential sources of both characters and concepts in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers” (35). This overstates his evidence.

    His evidence is a similar shaped character on the “Egyptian Counting” document representing the number 2 that looks a lot like an alternate shape for the character for Beth (the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet), which appears in a chart in Moses Stuart, A Grammar of the Hebrew Language, 5th ed. (Andover, MA: Gould and Newman, 1835), one of the books Cowdery brought from the East. Based on this one character Lindsay wants us to revise a carefully-constructed and sound chronology. I don’t think so.

    However, this evidence has problems that even Lindsay seems to recognize. First, if one looks at the “Egyptian Counting” document the shape for 2 is similar to the Arabic 2, and therefore could simply be a disguised 2. This possibility is strengthened by the fact that the numbers for 1, 4, 5, 7, and 8 are also similar to their Arabic equivalents.

    Second, Cowdery brought the 5th edition of Moses Stuart’s A Grammar of the Hebrew Language printed in 1835, but that doesn’t mean that no one had access to an earlier edition of Stuart’s book.

    Third, the character was published in other similar charts by other authors as early as the eighteenth century. Lindsay himself gives an example from Thomas Astle, The Origin and Progress of Writing: As Well Hieroglyphic as Elementary (London: T. Payne & Son, B. White, P. Elmsly, G. Nichol, and Leigh and Sotheby, 1784), Table 1, p. 64.

    However, I don’t see JS looking at the chart in Stuart’s book, or any book, and borrowing just one letter, no matter what date one wants to assign. Even Lindsay notes that these characters on the “mysterious Egyptian Counting document” aren’t Egyptian (p. 49). So where did they come from and how does this document fit into the Egyptian project? Despite the words at the top of the first page “Egyptian Counting,” there is no connecting to the Egyptian project. I think this document is best understood as part of the pure language project that predated the arrival of the Egyptian papyri and was subsequently carried over into the Egyptian project, as we see happening in the Alphabets. An examination of so-called the Book of Mormon characters shows that JS favored familiar shapes derived from English letters and Arabic numerals when inventing ancient-looking characters. So it seems probable that the “Egyptian Counting” document reflects an earlier rather than later time.

    Besides, the one character from Stuart’s chart, Lindsay states: “No other clear correspondence exists with the Egyptian Counting document” (p. 50). Nevertheless, Lindsay attempts to compare Stuart’s characters with other characters in the KEP, but these are random, superficial, and limited to simple characters (characters shaped like a sideways F, a Y, and an inverted A, for example). There is nothing that could be considered compelling or striking. However, trying to locate Lindsay’s parallels is difficult because they are highly subjective, forced (by rotating or deleting parts of the characters), and downright silly.

    Lindsay demonstrates that he doesn’t know the KEP well when compares a character on page 2 of the GAEL with an Arabic character corresponding with the Hebrew character daleth in Stuart’s chart (p. 52). Lindsay evidently doesn’t know that this character in the GAEL appears at the ends of the three Alphabets and was taken from the beginning of JSP XI, referred to as the w-loop character (by Nibley even), but has since flaked off.

    Lindsay tries to suggest that the underlining of characters to indicate degrees and the Iota dot in the GAEL are like Hebrew diacritics or vowels. However, the lines come from the papyri and the dots come from JS’s misreading of the flaked ink.

    This should be enough to show that Lindsay has no evidence from Hebrew that forces us to abandon dating of the GAEL to between July and October or November 1835. The rest of Lindsay’s discussion is weak speculation that should have been cut by the editors.

  24. In Part 4, Lindsay criticizes Jensen and Hauglid’s dates for key documents (pp. 58-62). Lindsay is correct in noting that documents with Warren Parrish’s handwriting necessarily date to after he was hired as JS’s scribe on 29 October 1835, at least the portion of the document in his handwriting. Hence, he finds it improper for Jensen and Hauglid to label Book of Abraham Manuscript-B, which is entirely in Parrish’s handwriting: “circa July-circa November 1835.” This is a reasonable concern. However, he also questions the same dating for Book of Abraham Manuscript-C, which bears both the handwriting of Phelps on the first page and Parrish’s for the remainder of the document. Here Jensen and Hauglid’s dating is perfectly sound.

    Lindsay tries to defend Gee’s dating: “Here John Gee’s assessment is more reasonable: he lists both documents as from October 29, 1835 to April 1836, a range that leaves open the possibility of Hebrew study influence” (p. 59). However, this is not Gee’s dating. Gee dates Phelps’ contribution “Between July 1835 and 29 October 1835” and Parrish’s “Between 29 October 1835 and 1 April 1836” (Gee, Introduction, 27, 34). The only difference is the cut-off date, Gee apologetic reverse-translation theory motivating him to extend the dating as far as possible. Because the Williams and Parrish documents begin with a notation in the top margin mentioning the “second part” of the “fifth degree,” they necessarily date to after the GAEL. Since Gee dates the GAEL to early 1836, the Williams and Parrish documents must be copies, not original dictated documents, and must also date to 1836. This is pure speculation motivated by a need to maintain the equally speculative reverse-translation theory, which is founded on a flawed and superficial understanding of the document sources.

    Lindsay also criticizes Jensen and Hauglid for dating the three Egyptian Alphabets and GAEL to between July and November 1835, because “this generous date range would enable the Kirtland Egyptian Papers to serve as sources for the production of the Book of Abraham, a theory favored either intentionally or unintentionally in the treatment of these documents in JSPRT4, consistent with the personal views at least one of the editors but not consistent with the unreferenced analysis of other scholars” (p. 61). On the other hand, Lindsay argues, “If these documents arose after November 1835, then that would strengthen the argument of apologists that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers are derived from the revealed translation and not the other way around. The dates matter, at least to some people and for some issues. Unfortunately, textual clues indicate the assumed dates presented in JSPRT4 are in serious error (see Issue 3, above, on the implications of Hebrew study on the dates of documents)” (p. 61).

    As previously mentioned, Lindsay’s arguments are irrelevant because the Alphabets and the GAEL are not about the text of the BofA. They stand alone as translations of various characters taken from other portions of the papyri that JSP XI, which is the source of the BofA. The History of the Church, which was written with the participation of both Phelps and JS, dates the beginning of the Alphabets and the GAEL to July 1835, and the entry in JS’s journal mentioning working on the Egyptian alphabet and unfolding of ancient astronomy probably refers to the material at the end of the GAEL, although a little more was later added in Parrish’s handwriting.

  25. In Part 5 (pp. 61-76), Lindsay criticizes Jensen and Hauglid for giving “improper credibility” to the critics’ claim that BofA Manuscripts A and B in the handwritings of Frederick G. Williams and Warren Parrish were created simultaneously as JS dictated. The evidence for this is quite strong, but Lindsay strenuously resists evidence because he knows it is devastating to the apologists’ reverse-translation theory.

    Proponents of the reverse-translation theory want the entire BofA and possibly more to have been dictated by JS in July 1835 before the creation of the Alphabets and the GAEL. However, if the Williams and Parrish documents were created simultaneously then both are originals, not copies, and necessarily date to after Parrish was hired on 29 October 1835, which is much too late to fit the apologists’ scenario. Another problem is that both documents begin with a notation mentioning the “second part” of the “fifth degree,” which implies that they date to after the GAEL. One would also have to conclude that if any translation were performed in July 1835, it would necessarily be limited to the first three verses.

    The evidence for simultaneous recording is several inline corrections made near the beginning of both documents that are not otherwise easily explained. Jensen and Hauglid try to accommodate both critics and apologists when they state:

    “JS may have dictated some or most of the text to both scribes at the same time. In that case, these two manuscripts would likely be the earliest dictated copies of the Book of Abraham. Some scribal errors in the later portion of the manuscript made by Williams, however, indicate that he copied some of his text from another manuscript. JS may have read aloud to Williams and Parrish from an earlier, nonextant text, making corrections as he went; …” (Jensen and Hauglid, 192). The was quoted by Lindsay (p. 62), but this wasn’t good enough for him because it “undermines” belief in the BofA and the Restoration. “Those are all key talking points for critics of the Book of Abraham, part of the basic fabric for the case against Joseph as a prophet. But a more careful examination of these documents reveals the questionable scholarship behind such arguments” (p. 63). However, Lindsay’s attempt to escape this evidence only undermines his scholarship and demonstrates that he is only interested in apologetic talking points, not in fair play as he professes.

    The first example occurs in Abraham 1:4:

    I sought for {the} appointment
    {whereunto} unto the priesthood according
    to the appointment of God unto the fathers
    concerning the seed

    I sought for {the} appointment
    {whereunto} unto the priesthood according
    to the appointment of God unto the fathers
    concerning the seed

    Here both Williams and Parrish wrote “whereunto” then cancelled it and wrote “unto” on the line immediately following this cancellation. This shows that one scribe was not simply copying the other; nor were they copying a now missing document. The simplest way to explain how the same emendation could occur in two documents is that both were writing from dictation at the same time and Joseph Smith made an immediate correction.

    To escape the implications of this evidence, Lindsay invents an ad hoc scenario wherein he imagines Parrish was visually copying an existing document while at the same time reading aloud so that Williams can make a copy too. In the “Valuable Discovery” notebooks there is evidence for JS dictating while Cowdery and Phelps recorded the passage about princess Katumin, but where is evidence for what Lindsay describes? Besides, what he describes in implausible because it requires Parrish to see what he is copying incorrectly, copy it incorrectly, verbally repeat it incorrectly, then after Williams has copied it correct himself. This is what leads Lindsay into wild and unrestrained speculation about how such a thing could occur in the real world.

    Lindsay asserts: “The common mistakes and corrections in the beginning of the documents are hard to explain if Joseph were dictating and already had a sentence in his head, but make sense if a scribe is reading aloud from an existing manuscript a few words at a time as both scribes then write what has been spoken” (p. 65). The truth is the other way around. Conceivably, JS began to say, “I sought for the appointment whereunto God had appointed me” or “the fathers,” but changed his mind. This happens all the time in dictation.

    Instead, Lindsay tries to explain it as a visual mistake. He believes that the text Parrish was looking at read “I sought for mine appointment unto,” but that he copied and spoke “I sought for the appointment whereunto,” and then caught his mistake. He explains that Parrish’s eye skipped ahead to “the appointment” before “of God,” or Parrish may have “subconsciously” changed “mine” to “the” because he wasn’t used to seeing “mine in front of a noun.” Lindsay goes so far as to speculate that Parrish may have been confused since “mine ends with ne, which can look like he in the” (p. 65). This is the serious scholarship Lindsay wants Jensen and Hauglid to consider replacing with the “questionable scholarship” of the critics?

    Lindsay obviously doesn’t know how haplography occurs. If the scribe’s eye accidentally skipped ahead, we should expect it to read: “I sought for [mine appointment unto the priesthood according to] the appointment of God unto the fathers,” with the words in brackets missing. In other words, we wouldn’t expect “appointment whereunto.”

    Trying to explain the appearance of “whereunto” leads Lindsay further into incoherence. According to Lindsay, “The conversion of unto into whereunto makes sense as a scribal or reading error given that whereunto was just used in a similar context earlier in Abraham 1:2” (p. 66). In other words, Parrish was momentarily confused and said the wrong word because he had said it several sentences earlier. However, the error is not one of simple substitution but also the absence of the words “of God.”

    Another problem is that according to Lindsay’s theory Parrish had not read Abraham 1:2, since both Williams and Parrish begin with Abraham 1:4. Lindsay stumbles all over himself trying to keep his ad hoc speculation from imploding: “If the person reading the text to our two scribes had the complete text of Abraham 1 in hand, helping them to make copies for their own use or study, perhaps, then if that person had previously read verse 2 or were familiar with it, then memory (or visual memory) of that previous whereunto regarding Priesthood rights could easily cause one to stumble and say whereunto instead of unto” (p. 66). This reveals yet another problem with Lindsay’s theory: explaining why the two scribes began with verse 4 instead of at the beginning. The obvious answer is that they were continuing the text where Phelps had left off, which implies there was not speculated complete text dating to July 1835.

    Needless to say, this is not only bad scholarship, but the worst kind of apologetics.

    Lindsay spared readers of his excessively long review similar ridiculous explanations for several other inline corrections appearing in both the Parrish and Williams documents, which he has given on his thoroughly apologetic Mormanity blog.

  26. Continuing my response to Lindsay’s Part 5 (pp. 61-76), I will discuss his apologetic approach to dismissing evidence that the Parrish and Williams manuscripts of the BofA were created simultaneously as JS dictated, which he omitted from his Interpreter essay but included on his Mormanity blog—“The Twin Book of Abraham Manuscripts: Do They Reflect Live Translation Produced by Joseph Smith, or Were They Copied From an Existing Document?” (4 July 2019)

    Abraham 1:17

    … and this because {their hearts are turned} they have turned their hearts away from me to worship the god of Elk Kee-nah …

    … and this because {their harts are turn} they have turned their hearts away from me, to worship the god of Elkkener, …

    Here Joseph Smith dictated “their hearts are turned” and immediately changed it to “they have turned their hearts.”

    Lindsay tries to speculate his way out of this one: “It could also occur … if the original manuscript Parrish was seeing had the initial phrase only lightly stricken out or with a penciled in correction that caused initial confusion about the editorial intent.” However, on this one he admits the critic’s interpretation is stronger.

    Abraham 1:26

    … in the first generation in the days of the first Patriarchal reign,
    even in the reign of Adam.
    And also Noah his father. {For in his days}
    who blessed him with the blessings of the earth …

    … in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam;
    and also Noah his father, {for in his days},
    who blessed him, with the blessings of the earth …

    Here Joseph Smith evidently changed the direction of his narrative after both Williams and Parrish recorded four words.

    According to Lindsay, Parrish (or whoever was reading) was influenced by the first occurrence of the phrase “in the days,” which somehow led him to accidentally repeat the phrase, although adding the word “for” preceding it. While can easily understand how JS could start to say something like “for in the days of Noah,” and then change his mind, it is not easy to see how a reader can arbitrarily insert “for in the days.” Lindsay further imagines, “Upon noticing and reading ‘who blessed him,’ the incongruity would have been noted and the error detected.” There is absolutely no logic to this assertion. Indeed, with such freewheeling reasoning, Lindsay could resist any evidence.

  27. In Part 6 of his review (pp. 76-85), Lindsay criticizes Jensen and Hauglid (as well as Terryl Givens) for “downplaying common knowledge about Champollion and the nature of the Egyptian language.” These scholars have simply pointed out that the KEP seem to reflect a view about Egyptian characters that pre-dated Champollion, where a character could be packed with layers of meaning, a view dating back to Athanasius Kircher in the seventeenth century. According to Lindsay, JS, W. W. Phelps, and other early Mormons must have known about Champollion’s decipherment of the Rosetta Stone, which raises serious doubt about “the possibility that Joseph Smith really may have thought he could translate hundreds of words of text from a single Egyptian character, as we have in a standard critical narrative about how Joseph allegedly translated the Book of Abraham” (pp. 76-77).

    Given this argument, how then does he propose to explain the five degree system in the GAEL? Oliver Cowdery in the December 1835 issue of the Messenger and Advocate said the Egyptian language was “very comprehensive,” and the first pages of the GAEL explain how each line and dot could produce a sentence in English and how that could be further expanded in each of the five degrees. Lindsay can produce no evidence for knowledge of Champollion among early Mormons. Considering their views about Egyptian, it could be taken as evidence that they were quite ignorant of Champollion’s work or perhaps didn’t appreciate its implications.

    A careful examination of the BofA manuscripts show that the characters were not placed in the left margin to mark paragraphs, either to decorate or organize the text. The paragraphing does not occur where expected, but occasionally paragraphs are created in midsentence, suggesting that the text was being aligned with the characters. This in turn suggests that the text is a translation of the characters. This is especially clear in W. W. Phelps’ text of Abraham 1:1-3, where the characters and text of keyed to numbers.

    This concludes my response to Lindsay’s review of Jensen and Hauglid’s book.

  28. FPR, I don’t see a way to contact you on the site. I’m assuming this comment will be moderated and not directly published. I would like to invite you to review my new scripture study webapp which you can find at I’d like to discuss it if you want to email me or contact me through the website.

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