Spiritual revelation is the most valid and reliable source of learning, according to a BYU Education Week presentation by professor Kerry M. Muhlestein.
Muhlestein, a professor of ancient scripture, focused on challenges LDS Church members face in understanding discrepancies between what scholars know about the Book of Abraham and what they’ve been taught from a gospel standpoint.
“Part of what I hope happens today is not just that we answer questions about the Book of Abraham, but that we can equip (ourselves) to answer all kinds of questions,” Muhlestein said.
Muhlestein gave an overview and history of the papyri from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham, including examples of false assumptions that ultimately cause confusion.
“Everyone made an assumption that the text that was adjacent to Facsimile One was what Joseph Smith had translated,” Muhlestein said. “And it makes some sense. … But when you don’t test it, when you just go with it, it’s an assumption or a presumption, and that’s the thing we need to be careful of.”
In that example, Muhlestein cleared up the assumption by asking how many people had ever read a textbook that referred them to a picture several pages away. The same principle applies to ancient texts and facsimiles, he said.
Muhlestein said Abraham lived in 2000 B.C., but the Book of Abraham was written in 200 B.C. He said this can be explained by defining a text as the standard copy everyone reads, and defining a manuscript as a person’s own notes or writings within the text.
“We all have the same text,” Muhlestein said, using a passage from the Book of Abraham as an example. “But this (note in the margin) is my manuscript. … (So) the text was written by Abraham, but that doesn’t mean that that manuscript, that copy, was written by Abraham.”
Muhlestein said a troubling trend is academic arguments driving people from the Church, and those arguments later being proven wrong.
“Those things that I have learned from revelation, I’ve never found out later were wrong,” Muhlestein said.
Muhlestein said if people trust their revelation, it will see them “through all sorts of questions and all sorts of problems.”
“I would submit that what we need to teach… is the validity of revelation as a source of knowledge,” he said, “and how foolish it is to abandon what we’ve learned through revelation for something we’ve learned through the academic process.”