I realize this may seem a bit late as we’ve studied the first part of Genesis which included the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham. But, based on my own study and preparation for the first lessons, I have a few comments to make about the PofGP and the JST.
Selections from the Book of Moses
Selections from the Book of Moses contains 8 chapters in the PofGP. It starts with the Moses encountering God “when Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain…” (Moses 1:1). This encounter and the subsequent revelations and visions received by Moses fit in the Book of Exodus Chapter 19 starting at verse 3. The chapter documents three separate visits (v3 to v6, v8 to v13 and v20 to v24) that Moses had with “the Lord,” presumed to be Jehovah rather than Heavenly Father even though the Hebrew word Elohim is used in the beginning of verse 3. All subsequent references are to Jehovah.
The chapters of the Book of Moses do not indicated separate encounters.
The remaining chapters describe God’s revealing to Moses:
- The entire creation story
- How Satan become the devil
- The fall of Adam and Eve
- The story of Cain and Abel
- The story of Enoch and the City of Enoch
- Noah and the preparation before the flood.
As well as these key gospel principles:
- The role and mission of Jesus Christ.
- The role of Satan.
- How the fall of Adam effects mankind
- The nature of man.
- Gospel of Jesus Christ was taught in the beginning.
- God’s ways versus man’s ways.
- The priesthood.
The Selections from the Book of Moses are the replacement for the beginning chapters of Genesis in the JST. But, in the PofGP, the story ends rather abruptly at Chapter 8:30 with “And God said unto Noah: The end of all flesh is come before me, for the earth is filled with violence, and behold I will destroy all flesh from off the earth.”
This corresponding spot in Genesis is Gen 6:13. Why did it end there?
Well, according to Alan K. Parrish writing in “Studies in Scripture, Vol. 2: The Pearl of Great Price” edited by Robert L. Millet, Kent P. Jackson,
“Under the direction of Elder Orson Pratt, the 1878 committee assigned to revise the Pearl of Great Price for the general church membership used the 1867 edition of the Inspired Version of the Holy Scriptures, published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It was necessary to bring the Moses material to an end at some point. The flood, being so extensive an act, seemed to provide a convenient termination point.”
So, basically “we had to stop somewhere.” If you have a copy of the JST (published by the RLDS, now Community of Christ), you will find that there are more changes made to the remainder of the Genesis account. The LDS edition of the Bible has most of them as footnotes or in the back under the JST section.
One of the interesting changes that Joseph Smith made was covered in a recent lesson.
The Genesis account of the story of Rebekah and Isaac has the servant of Abraham putting his hand under the thigh of Abraham as part of an oath taking to accomplish the mission of finding Isaac a wife. (Gen 24:2). The JST corrects that to say “hand” instead of thigh (As in: “Put forth I pray thee thy hand under my hand.” JST Gen 24:2). Which makes sense except for the fact that “Israel says to Joseph exactly what Abraham says to Eliezer, “Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh.” (Genesis 47:29) Perhaps the idea was for Abraham to hold Eliezer’s hand under his hand and against his thigh.” Joseph Smith did not “correct” that verse.
“The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible says the purpose of this custom was to relate the oath-taker to the source of life in the other person. Given the nature of Eliezer’s task, this must have been an appropriate way to swear the oath: Eliezer was to make a journey to see that Abraham would have descendants under the covenant.” (Sandra Packard, Dennis Packard, Feasting upon the Word, 1981, from Gospellink.com)
The Book of Abraham
Many, many things have been written about the Book of Abraham and its origin, so I’ll not rehash them here. Except to point out that the Book of Abraham is purported to be a translation of Papyri acquired by Joseph Smith in 1835. Published in the Times and Seasons for March 5, 1842 (vol. 3, p. 704) was “A translation of some ancient Records, from the Catacombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand upon papyrus.” These writings were included as part of the Pearl of Great Price, which was canonized as Scripture by the common consent of the church in General Conference on October 10, 1880. The phrase “purported to be” was removed.
The Book of Abraham, consisting of 5 chapters, contains the writings of the Prophet Abraham while he was in Egypt and, much as the Book of Moses does, documents Abraham’s direct encounters with God and what was revealed to him by God. The first Chapter chronicles Abraham’s journey from Ur of Chaldea, the land of his birth to Haran. Chapters 2 through 5 documents Abraham visits with Jehovah and his learning about the creation of the world up through Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
The Book of Abraham adds to the LDS canon of scripture and gospel principles in the following ways:
- Premortal Councils held
- Nature of Premortal Spirits
- The Heavens, including the concept of Kolob and the relationship to Christ
- The concept that God had a Father
The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible
Beginning in June of 1830, Joseph Smith began a project to revise portions of the King James Version of the Bible to restore “plain and precious things taken away.” (1 Nephi 13:28). The motivation for this work was largely gained through the work of translation of the Book of Mormon and Joseph’s encounters with prophets like Moroni, whose recitations of various scriptural verses were different than the rendering in the KJV version of the Bible.
Starting with the first chapter of Genesis, moving though both the Old and New Testaments, the Prophet provided embellishments, corrections, word changes and even some significant additions to the Bible. (See Joseph Smith-Mathew and Book of Moses in the PofGP). The translation efforts culminated in 1833. But it appears that Joseph continued revisions up to his death in June of 1844. The Prophet used his translations of the Bible in the Lectures on Faith as well as publishing excerpts in the “Evening and Morning Star” and “Times and Seasons.”
The JST has never been formally published by the LDS Church has Church leaders were convinced that Joseph had not finished the work on the scriptures.
However, the RLDS (now, CofC) published the JST in 1867 as “The Holy Scriptures.” Subsequent editions included the words “Inspired Version.” The latest edition, published in 1974 is thought to be the most accurate.
The LDS Church did incorporate the JST into its own edition of the KJV published in 1979 using footnotes where a few words were changed or added, and an extended JST section in the rear of the Bible for longer passages. The Book of Moses and Joseph Smith – Matthew remained in the PofGP.
Process of Translation
Joseph Smith was not schooled in ancient languages or possessed early manuscripts of the scriptures. He did have the Egyptian Papyri and the gold plates of the Book of Mormon. So just how did he translate (which is the word used most often) these ancient records and produce the PofGP books and the JST?
According to the preface to the Book of Mormon, it was “To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof… The interpretation thereof by the gift of God.“ (Preface Title Page 1).
In spite of having the physical plates in his presence and, in spite of paintings and pictures drawn to the contrary, Joseph did not “translate” the book as we would understand the translation process. It was by revelation and by the “gift and power of God.”
The same is true of the other books we are discussing as well as the revelations given in the Doctrine and Covenants. They were given to Joseph through revelation, not by scholarly translation. Even the Book of Abraham was given in this manner. The Prophet never fully explained how he received these translations, but we can surmise it was in the manner after the Book of Mormon.
One of the most troubling aspects for some critics of the Church is to understand this concept as it applies to the Book of Abraham. Since the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York discovered some of the Papyri reported to have belonged to Joseph Smith, critics have hammered away at the authenticity of the Book of Abraham since the fragments found did not represent the same text as the Book of Abraham. According to the Church Press Release at the time (November 27, 1967), “The collection presented to the Church today is only a part of the papyri which Joseph Smith had in his possession. “ The remainder was presumed lost in the Great Chicago fire of 1871.
The bottom line is this, it all comes down to the belief that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God or not. If he was a Prophet and able to receive revelation from God and thus able to provide these revelations and scriptures, then we should be satisfied it comes from God and is authentic.
If we don’t believe that Joseph was a Prophet, then all bets are off as to the value of these additional scriptures at all.