The Larger Issue
by John Gee
[Editor's Note: Presented at the eleventh annual FAIR Conference, 6 August 2009.]
The idea for this talk came from reading some critics about the Book of Abraham. The critics were discussing an Egyptological issue on the internet. You all know these type of critics, the ones who have not the courage of their convictions sufficient to sign their real name to their opinions. These particular critics had absolutely no training in Egyptology so the level of discussion left something to be desired. What struck me as curious, however, was that one of these critics had already staked out a particular position about the relationship of the Joseph Smith Papyri to the Book of Abraham, but he was so determined to prove certain apologists are wrong in absolutely everything that he was willing to destroy his own case to do so.
Contemporary hostile non-Mormon eyewitnesses (surely the gold standard of evidence for present-day hostile non-Mormon critics) as well as Mormon eyewitnesses identify the Book of Abraham as coming from the long scroll in Joseph Smith’s possession. The eyewitnesses force us to focus on the long roll, whichever that may be. (And I have actually changed my mind in the past about which roll that was.) If the scroll of Horos is the long scroll (my current position), then, given the length of the Seminis scroll, it is long enough to contain at least one other text, which is not unusual for Documents of Breathing Made by Isis, so the Document of Breathing Made by Isis need not be the Book of Abraham. If the scroll of Horos is not the long scroll (my former position), then the Document of Breathing Made by Isis cannot be the source of the Book of Abraham, and Ptolemaic period Books of the Dead are known to include all sorts of other compositions. Under neither scenario does the attempted matching of eyewitness statements to Egyptological description pose a problem for the argument that the Document of Breathing Made by Isis is not the Book of Abraham. So, if one is going to argue that the scroll of Horos is the source of the Book of Abraham (as critics are desperate to do), then it will not do to attack the scroll of Horos as not being the long scroll and thus not the source of the Book of Abraham. Yet that is precisely what this particular critic was doing. One simply cannot have it both ways. The critics have mistaken an attack on a theory connecting nineteenth century eyewitness statements with modern Egyptological assessments for an attack on the Book of Abraham. They have not understood the argument. And I have found the whole episode rather amusing.
The problem is that in many cases, the argument about the Book of Abraham has become so complex that most individuals, even some of the sharpest critics, cannot keep track of the larger picture and the implications that their arguments on certain issues have on other parts of the picture. We cannot afford to lose sight of the big picture.
So, a few rules for apologists:
- It is not necessary to refute every statement by a critic. One needs to understand the argument and refute the argument, which often may only depend on a couple of key points that need refutation. The critic may be wrong about a point but if it is not central to the argument, one can often let it slide.
- Likewise, not every argument or point is worth defending. We do not need to defend every rumor about, every action of, or every offhand opinion of every Church leader, apologist, or member. One needs to know what is most important and that should be defended, but the lesser points are often unimportant. We also do not need to defend mistakes. Even widely held opinions do not need to be defended if they are mistaken. The Book of Mormon does not require a hemispheric geography and even if hemispheric readings have been popular among a certain segment of members, they do not have to be defended.
- Truth is not well served by a bad argument. We do not need to shore up or even repeat bad arguments. For example, Hugh Nibley spent pages on the sacrifice of Abraham as part of the Sed Festival. In doing so he was following the accepted Egyptological wisdom of the day, which was refuted a decade later, so that turns out to be a bad argument and there is no point in pursuing it further. We apologists make no claims to perfection either in ourselves or our arguments and so it is better to simply let go of bad arguments. If we do not think our scriptures or our prophets are inerrant, why should we make any such claims about our own work?
- King Benjamin told us to “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend” (Mosiah 4:9). If we take this scripture seriously, we will not expect to have all our questions answered in this life. God may know everything but we do not and cannot.
So if what is most important needs to be defended, what are some of those things that need to be defended?
- God exists.
- Jesus Christ is His son.
- He talked and still talks to men through the power of the Holy Ghost.
- Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of the world.
- The atonement is available to us through our trust in Jesus, our turning from sins to obeying the commandments of God, our taking upon us sacred covenants, following the Holy Ghost, and continuing to follow this course to the end of our lives.
Of course, you will recognize that this list follows three of the first four Articles of Faith closely. It also follows closely the definitions that Jesus gave to both gospel and doctrine in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 11, 25).
For the purposes of apologetics in this dispensation of the gospel, I would add a sixth: The Book of Mormon is true, and by that I mean that it was a record of God’s interactions with an actual ancient people. We may be called to defend smaller points than this, but if these six things are not true, there is no point in the rest. If our defenses compromise the larger issues, there is something wrong with them.
Where is the Book of Abraham in this? It isn’t. The Book of Abraham is not central to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church survived for the first fifty years of its existence without the Book of Abraham as part of the scriptural canon. So the first thing to remember about the role of the Book of Abraham in apologetics is that the Church does not rise and fall on the veracity of the Book of Abraham. “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”1 So declared Joseph Smith. The Book of Abraham is an appendage. In importance, it ranks below the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.
Of the 102,037 scriptural citations in General Conference since 1942, the Book of Abraham has been cited a mere 731 times, less than one percent of the citations. The Doctrine and Covenants has been cited thirty-eight times as frequently. In fact, the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants has been cited more times (755) than the Book of Abraham, and so have five other sections of the D&C (D&C 107 (793), D&C 132 (799), D&C 76 (965), D&C 84 (1290), D&C 88 (1299)). In the Book of Mormon Moroni (1011), 1 Nephi (1477), Mosiah (1720), 2 Nephi (2526), 3 Nephi (2198), and Alma (3438) have all been cited at least twice as many times. Even the book of Ether has been cited almost as much (713). Eleven books of the New Testament have been cited more often than the Book of Abraham; Matthew has been cited more than ten times as often (9062) as the Book of Abraham. In the Old Testament, Genesis (2708), Exodus (1636), Psalms (1845), Isaiah (3883), Jeremiah (808) and Daniel (1220) are all more cited than the Book of Abraham. Even in the Pearl of Great Price, Moses (2701) and Joseph Smith-History (1236) and the Articles of Faith (814) are more cited than the Book of Abraham. So the Book of Abraham ranks twenty-eighth on most cited books of LDS scripture.
If we look at individual chapters, only one chapter of the Book of Abraham, chapter 3, ranks in the top 100 most cited chapters from conference and it ranks forty-seventh. The next most commonly cited chapter ranks two-hundred forty second, then three-hundred twelfth, three-hundred twenty-second, and tied for five-hundred seventy-sixth with fourteen other chapters.
More than half of the citations from the Book of Abraham come from the seven verses in Abraham 3:22-28. Even in the missionary discussions, Abraham 3:22-26 is referenced four times but nothing from the Book of Abraham outside that block of texts is. This is the important part of the Book of Abraham, the section on the preexistence, and pretty much the only distinctive part of the book. That is what we, as Latter-day Saints, care about. It is what is important. For the critics, this may be “superstitionem prauam et immodicam” to quote Pliny,2 but they seem to deem it not even worthy of attack. What they attack is simply not important to Latter-day Saints. That is the big picture.
This is not to say that Latter-day Saints can or should forgo the Book of Abraham but simply to give an idea of its relative importance. It is more important than some things, and much less important than others.
Research on the Book of Abraham takes place on four fronts, each of which requires a different skill set. If you do not have the skill set, you probably should at least be careful about getting involved in the discussion since you are at least as likely to confuse the discussion as clarify it. Of course, that never stopped the critics, but we have been asked to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16). We members tend to have the “harmless as doves” part down pat, but need a little work on the “wise as serpents” part.
The most prominent area of research on the Book of Abraham deals with its coming forth. This is where most of the apologetics action takes place, because frankly most critics, though not all, are neither well-trained or very bright and so this is the only set of facts and evidences that they are capable of dealing with. Even there, I notice that they studiously ignore the French and Italian sources.
The second area deals with the Joseph Smith Papyri. This is the only area where Egyptological training dominates, and here the Egyptologists and the apologists say the same thing: The Document of Breathings made by Isis is not the Book of Abraham. The critics insist that we must take the opposite view to theirs and insist that we must believe that the Document of Breathings made by Isis is the Book of Abraham. But we simply do not believe that and we get to decide what we believe. One of the silliest things is for critics to say that we must believe the opposite of what they do and then attack something we do not believe.
In working with the Facsimiles, I assume that as Ptolemaic period vignettes they should be treated as Ptolemaic period vignettes, with the same approaches and knowledge of the range of possibilities. There are over twenty-two hundred Ptolemaic period books of the dead known. Very few Egyptologists have explored this material in any depth and have an idea about the scope of this material. I only know of about five of us. Last month one expert who twenty years ago put together thirty-nine Ptolemaic manuscripts (which at the time had not been done before) made some conclusions based on those thirty-nine manuscripts. Now there are two data sets dating to the Ptolemaic period of 833 manuscripts and 1386 manuscripts respectively, so almost 57 times as many manuscripts. Those who have been through the larger data set rightfully questioned some of the conclusions based on the much smaller data set. Until one has looked at a few thousand Ptolemaic period vignettes one is really not able to comment on them in an informed manner. Even with the larger number of manuscripts, there are still surprises. I showed a vignette from one of the Joseph Smith Papyri to one of the experts who had cataloged all of the known vignettes from Ptolemaic period manuscripts, and he could only think of one that was remotely similar, and none that were identical. He found the matter curious, not alarming. The third area deals with the various tales told about Abraham that seem to show a knowledge of the Book of Abraham. Several years ago we published a large collection but it was incomplete. In certain areas we had no one on the team who was competent to deal with the material; none of us, for example, know Classical Chinese. Other accounts we simply missed, and these will have to be dealt with at another time.
The fourth area deals with the text of the Book of Abraham as a record of Abraham’s day. This area requires specialized training and skills beyond what most Egyptologists have, but it is the most important of the three areas.
To see why, consider the case of the physics students and the barometer. The account is told of a group of physics students who are given a barometer and told to measure the height of a building. The supposedly correct method was to measure the air pressure on the top of the building and that at the bottom and use those two measurements to calculate the height of the building. Enterprising physics students, however, came up with alternative means. One measured the height of the barometer and using the length of the shadow cast by the barometer and the length of the shadow cast by the building at the same time, set up similar triangles and calculated the height of the building. Another tied string to the barometer and suspended it from the top of the building to create a pendulum, and used the time that the pendulum took to swing to calculate the height of the building. Another went to the building supervisor’s office and offered the supervisor the barometer if he would look up the height of the building on the blueprints. All of them used the barometer to obtain the height of the building but none of them used the officially correct way of coming up with the answer. The answer may be independent of the method.3 Similarly in one of the classes I took in graduate school we were asked to place a newly discovered fragment into an already published text. All of us came up with the same answer, but each of us used a different method to arrive at the result. Some people, however, get really touchy if you come up with the right answer by what they determine to be the wrong means. That mind set I used to associate with fundamentalist Protestants, but I have found it widely prevalent among scientists as well.
So with the Book of Abraham. It gives us a picture of Abraham’s day. How Joseph Smith produced the text does not matter any more than it matters how the student uses the barometer to come up with the answer to the question, what matters is how well it matches Abraham’s day.
When looking at Abraham’s day, we are obviously hampered by the lack of evidence from Abraham’s time and place. I do not assume that the evidence will yield more than it is capable of. Archaeology has strengths and weaknesses. One strength is determining general patterns of material culture. One weakness, is that rarely does it deal well with individuals. So there are limits to what one can be discovered through scholarship. Most of the religious, political, historical, and archaeological material is simply not available to provide definitive answers.
For years the critics have noted that the Book of Abraham has Egyptians up in Abraham’s homeland in Abraham’s day. This is something that they see as problematic. In the 1960s Georges Posener first suggested that there was an Egyptian empire in Syria in those days, but most scholars rejected it. There simply was not enough archaeological evidence for it in their opinion. Two articles last year change the picture. One was the publication by the President of the International Association of Egyptologists of a new autobiographical text from the Middle Kingdom. It details how this Egyptian led an expedition to Byblos and while there became involved in a military altercation between Byblos and Ullaza and ended up taking over both. This became the beginning of Egyptian involvement in northern Syria in the Middle Kingdom. Confirmation of the story comes from Byblos were the former kings are replaced by Egyptian appointed governors who began recording their titles in Egyptians. The second article came out in the premier peer-reviewed Egyptological journal in North America and detailed how a careful examination of the textual and archaeological sources indicates that Egypt had a presence in the northern Levant only during the reigns of two pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom: Sesostris III and Amenemhet III.
These articles point to a specific historical scenario for the Book of Abraham. The first chapter of Abraham takes place when Egypt controls Abraham’s homeland in northern Syria, and this can only be during a short, sixty year time period, about 1860-1800 BC. We know from archaeological evidence of that time period that Egyptian gods were worshiped at Ebla, and that Ebla is mentioned in Egyptian texts of the time. We also know that Egyptian sphinxes inscribed for monarchs of the time were found at Aleppo and Ugarit. This gives us an idea of the area under the Egyptian monarchs Sesostris III and Amenemhet III. It also explains Abraham’s travel route. He crosses the Euphrates to Harran, outside the Egyptian sphere of influence and stays a few years, during which time the Egyptian empire of the Middle Kingdom collapses making it safe for him to return to formerly Egyptian held territory.
Unfortunately, the time period when Abraham lived is almost unknown to Egyptology even today. The debates among Kim Ryholt, Manfred Beitak, Jim and Susan Allen, Daphna Ben Tor, and Chris Bennett about this time period shows how much is up in the air even today.
It might come as some surprise to some that Abraham is in the area of northern Mesopotamia and Syria. The term Chaldean did not mean the same in Joseph Smith’s day as it does now. In the present day, the Chaldeans are equated only with the tribes of the Kaldu that lived in the Iron Age in southern Mesopotamia. In Joseph Smith’s day it referred to the language that we call Aramaic and especially the Aramaic dialect that we call Syriac. It also referred to those who spoke that language (which originated in northern Syria). It also referred to the general area of greater Mesopotamia. Additionally, it was used as a term for superstitious.
The Chaldeans do not appear as such in the Hebrew Bible. Abraham is said to be from Ur of the Kasdim, not the Chaldeans. Though Kasdim is translated as Chaldeans, that is no indication that the Kasdim are the Kaldu. Recent analysis of the names in the biblical account of Abraham indicates that all of them originate in northern Mesopotamia. The name Abram itself, is attested only in northern Mesopotamia. The name is also only attested at the time when the Book of Abraham predicts it. Several towns are named Ur in Mesopotamia, that is the reason why it must be qualified as the Ur of the Kasdim.
Another example of how the Book of Abraham matches its day is the mention in the Book of Abraham of human sacrifice after the manner of the Egyptians. We know from archaeological evidence that the Egyptians practiced human sacrifice at that time, in areas that they dominated outside of Egypt. This archaeological evidence corresponds in practice to later ritual texts that describe how do human sacrifice. It also corresponds to historical records from Egypt that detail the circumstances under which human sacrifice occurred in Abraham’s day. Almost none of this material was available even to Nibley. This shows how much the picture can change in a few years. We also know the type of people targeted for human sacrifice: sbi, rebels or apostates (the term is used for both). Abraham says that his “fathers . . . utterly refused to hearken to my voice” (Abraham 1:5) when he condemned them for “having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given them , unto the worship of the gods of the heathen” (Abraham 1:5), instead they “endeavored to take away my life” (Abraham 1:7). There was no separation of church and state in ancient Egypt and the Pharaoh was the head of both. So to revolt against his authority, whether religious or political, made someone a rebel and subject to a ritualized death penalty. Archaeological evidence for this practice was first discovered about fifty years ago, but more archaeological evidence has appeared in the last ten years.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to have forged is the astronomical explanation in the third chapter of Abraham. In this chapter a complicated astronomical system is detailed and then linked to the notion of spirits which leads to the discussion of the preexistence. Whether viewed as plagiarism of Thomas Dick, a primer on pulsars, or as post-Einsteinian astronomy, this chapter has never made much sense to Latter-day Saints. There is a good reason is makes no sense to us. It is not meant for us. The Lord shows all this to Abraham with a specific purpose: “I show these things unto thee before ye go into Egypt, that ye may declare all these words” (Abraham 3:15).
Discussion begins with “the earth upon which thou standest” (Abraham 3:5). Abraham is told: “The planet which is the lesser light, lesser than that which is to rule the day, even the night, is above or greater than that upon which thou standest, in point of reckoning, for it moveth in order more slow” (Abraham 3:5). So the moon is above the earth and moves more slowly. “Now the set time of the lesser light is a longer time as to its reckoning than the reckoning of the time of the earth upon which thou standest” (Abraham 3:7). The moon’s rotation, at 27.3 days is longer than the earth’s rotation at one day. But from the point of view of visible astronomy, what is measured is the revolution of the moon, which happens to be the same as the rotation. The moon revolves around over the course of a lunar month and changes position in the sky. Over the course of a lunar month—which is not uncoincidentally about the same amount of time as our current months which were derived from lunar months (even the word month is derived from moon)—the moon observably changes position relative to both the background stars and the time of day. At the same time, because its position between the sun and the earth changes, the portion of its surface reflecting sunlight changes giving the moon its characteristic phases. It is quite easy to observe the changes in the moon over the course of the month by looking at the sky, and it can even be done in major cities despite the otherwise overwhelming light pollution that obscures most of the stars. Last night, if any of you were observing, there was a full moon.
The Lord told Abraham that “it is given unto thee to know the times of reckoning , and the set time, yea, the set time of the earth upon which thou standest, and the set time of the greater light which is set to rule the day, and the set time of the lesser light which is set to rule the night” (Abraham 3:6). Thus Abraham knew the length of a day, a month, and a year, set times based on astronomical observation that we still use today, although we use Roman alterations of months that were developed for administrative purposes because the lunar and solar calendars do not mesh easily. These set times, Abraham was told, were “according to its times and seasons in the revolutions thereof” (Abraham 3:4). Seen from the point of view of “the earth upon which thou standest” all of these astronomical bodies appear to revolve about the earth. Remember that the change of understanding brought about by Nicholas Copernicus was to change the celestial body around which everything was said to revolve and thus called the Copernican revolution, the event from which the meaning of the term revolution changed from “going around” to “a change in understanding.” So set times are based on the revolution of bodies around the earth (as the ancients would say it), or their apparent revolution (as we would put it). In the context of these revolutions, the Lord tells Abraham, “This is Shinehah, which is the sun” (Abraham 3:13).
When Abraham “saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it” (Abraham 3:2), the Lord told him, “These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob” (Abraham 3:3). The Lord gives Abraham a general rule: “where these two facts exists, there shall be another fact above them, that is, there shall be another planet whose reckoning of time shall be longer still; and thus there shall be the reckoning of time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob” (Abraham 3:8-9). Kolob’s set time is “one thousand years according to the time appointed unto that whereon thou standest” (Abraham 3:4). I take this as a round number.
After giving Abraham an understanding of the stars, the Lord shifts to a description of spirits: “If two things exist, and there be one above the other, there shall be greater things above them; therefore Kolob is the greatest of all the Kokaubeam that thou hast seen, because it is nearest to me. Now if there be two things, one above the other, and the moon be above the earth, then it may be that a planet or a star may exist above it. . . . These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all” (Abraham 3:16-17, 19). And just as Kolob “was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it” (Abraham 3:2), the Lord “came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen . . . and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones” (Abraham 3:21-22), which takes us into the preexistence and stars become a metaphor for spirits. From there the subject moves to the creation of the world giving Abraham a chance to “[begin] at the creation of the world, and also the creation of Adam, and [tell] all the things concerning the fall of man, and [rehearse] and [lay] before [them] the records and the holy scriptures” (Alma 18:36).
Now, there must be some reason for Abraham to “declare all these words” to the Egyptians (Abraham 3:15). They may not make much sense to us but they should have made sense to the Egyptians because the Lord talks to men “in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding” (D&C 1:24). So how would this material make sense to an Egyptian of Abraham’s day? Such an understanding is almost four thousand years removed from our own, and to understand Egyptian astronomy of Abraham’s day, it will help if we strip away all the great scientific discoveries. This is before Einstein’s theory of relativity, before Newton’s laws of physics and gravity and their mathematical precision expressed in the calculus that he developed to describe them. This is before Kepler described the orbits of the planets as ellipses, before Brae improved the accuracy of astronomical observations, before Galileo’s use of telescopes to see objects unseen by the naked eye, before Copernicus put the sun as the center of the solar system, before Ptolemy described the motion of the planets as epicycles, and before Aristotle said that the planets—being heavenly—must move in perfect circles. Thus it should come as no surprise that after Otto Neugebauer and Richard Parker investigated the subject in the 1960s the disappointing conclusion that they came to was that none of the astronomical material left on religious objects by the Egyptians was overly concerned with the precise measurements that Neugebauer saw as the hallmark of modern scientific astronomy.
How did the Egyptians of the late Middle Kingdom understand astronomy? We begin with the story of Sinuhe. This seems to have been the most popular literary work of ancient Egypt. It was composed in the Middle Kingdom and the story is set at the beginning of the reign of Sesostris I. In a hymn to that king, the king is told: “You have subdued all that the sun encircles” (Sinuhe B213). Pharaoh is supposed to rule the whole world, everything encircled by the sun. This phrase shows a geocentric system with the sun going around the earth. Egyptian terms for encircling are also used to mean “to control, or govern”. So, for the Egyptians, the god Re, the sun, encircles and governs the entire earth.
The path that the sun takes as it revolves around the earth, what we call the ecliptic, is called by the Egyptians, ö-n-x3. The area south of ö-n-?3 is called the field of reeds. The stars in the field of reeds, because of their position in the sky, disappear from view for seventy days at a time. The stars of the field of reeds are put in groups so that a new group appears every ten days; they are called decans. The list of decans in the field of reeds appears on the lids of sarcophagi from the Middle Kingdom. The seventy day time period during which the stars disappear coincides with the length of time of the mummification process, and this link is made explicit in the basic astronomical text from ancient Egypt. Egyptians believed that at death individuals could become a type of spirit (ih) if they had the proper rituals performed. These rituals were called sih, a term that means that make ihs. At death the Egyptians believed that the ih went to the field of reeds. The words for spirit (ih) and star (ah) is common in Egyptian texts and the two concepts and words are often played with and sometimes confused. So the spirits (ih) became stars (ah) in the sky.
One can see that to an Egyptian of the late Middle Kingdom, the astronomy that Abraham propounds (which so confounds us) would make sense and fit in with what they knew. There is another subtle point implicit in what Abraham was preaching to the Egyptians. The Egyptian supreme god Re, the sun, encircled and thus governed the earth. According to the astronomy outlined in Abraham, however, Kolob, which is near to the throne of God, encircled and thus governed the head of the Egyptian pantheon. The beauty of this approach is the it is implicit and not explicit. If the Egyptians thought about and took the teaching to its logical conclusion, they would realize that Abraham’s astronomical reasoning leads them to a belief in the Lord over their belief in their own chief god. It is not, however, explicit in Abraham’s teaching and thus less likely to get him in trouble.
This is just a sample of work that can be done and has been done on the Book of Abraham to set it into its historical milieu.
So what have we learned?
- The arguments about the Book of Abraham have become so complex that even the best and brightest critics end up arguing the LDS position: The Document of Breathing Made by Isis is not the Book of Abraham and most Latter-day Saints have never claimed it was. Since we agree on that issue, can we move on?
- The critics do not deal with the issues arising from the Book of Abraham that Latter-day Saints care about. In that sense their approach is legerdemain and bait-and-switch.
- How the Book of Abraham was translated is unimportant. The Church does not stand or fall on the Book of Abraham.
- Regardless of how the Book of Abraham was translated, it is a remarkable document that tells us more about Abraham’s day than Joseph Smith could have known.
These larger issues overshadow the often petty issues we deal with. It is high time that we paid attention to the larger issue.
1Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 49.
2Pliny, Letters 10.96.8.
3Variations on this story at http://www.snopes.com/college/exam/barometer.asp.