Time to Study the Old Testament Again Part 7 – Pearl of Great Price (PofGP) and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST)

Jeff Spector Mormon 27 Comments

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.
  • Covenants.

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
  • Foreordination
  • 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.

Comments

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Comments 27

  1. “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.”

    Not good logic. That a prophet is able to receive revelation and produce scripture, does not necessarily mean that he did so on one particular occasion.

    Why is that not a correct statement?

  2. Fascinating stuff. I still think that over time, the church will continue to de-emphasize the Book Of Abraham until it becomes something akin to the Journal of Discourses. As a missionary using the old missionary discussions, I was instructed not to bring it up except for the part in discussion 2 where we read Abraham 3:1-3 to discuss the pre-existence. Even then, we were instructed to keep discussion of the Book of Abraham to a bare minimum. With the switch to Preach my Gospel, it looks like they’re not having missionaries discuss the pre-existence at all. Sometimes I get the feeling that the Book of Abraham is more problematic than it’s worth.

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    Thomas,

    “That a prophet is able to receive revelation and produce scripture, does not necessarily mean that he did so on one particular occasion. Why is that not a correct statement.”

    I think a. we’re not talking about a single occasion but a series of occasions over a length of time. b. We are also talking about, in some cases, the very foundations of church doctrine.

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    steve,

    I think that discussions of the book of Abraham actually transcend the mantle of the Missionaries. They are to “cry repentance unto the people” and teach them about the Savior, the restoration of the gospel and the Living Prophet. There are many subjects they usually do not discuss with a potential convert. This can be somewhat problematic later on, but it would mean that no one joins the church until they are exposed to everything. We find that even members that grow up in the church may not get that kind of exposure.

  5. Jeff,

    “Evidence of a person’s character is inadmissible when offered to prove his or her conduct on a specified occasion.” I think that’s a good common sense rule — because not everybody always acts in accord with his general character. Similarly, “when God makes the prophet, He does not unmake the man.” There is no guarantee that a person’s general character as a prophet, means he acted in that character on a particular occasion.

    I’m simply saying that the tautology “Joseph was a prophet, therefore, the Book of Abraham is ‘authentic'” doesn’t necessarily follow. If you have simply chosen to accept Joseph, and his entire prophetic output, as authentic, then that’s fine — but the foundation of your acceptance of any particular portion of his output is nothing more or less than your general decision to accept it along with the rest. It doesn’t logically flow from the premise of your having accepted any other portion of his output.

  6. #5: Thomas

    I, too, agree that not everything brought forth by a prophet or apostle is necessarily “authentic” or “true”. JS taught that polygamy was wrong while he was secretly practicing it. BY talked about men on the moon. McConkie taught that blacks would essentially never have the priesthood until the end of the millennium. It goes on and on. We can still accept and respect the office that someone holds without necessarily being forced to believe that everything that person said was absolutely the truth.

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    Thomas, #5

    I am not in total disagreement with what you say, however, then how does one judge what a prophet says is true?. I would not trust you, per se to decide for me whether a prophet is speaking as such. I believe is true or not. it is up to each one of us to make that decision. It is ultimately the Spirit that provides that testimony, I believe. One can take a cynical approach to all of it and talk themselves out of the church. I see that as a relatively easy thing to do.

    Mike S, let try to keep the discussion on the Prophet Joseph and this work we are discussing. One can make that claim against most everyone. We are taking about revelation, not teaching or opinion.

    To me, either this canon of scripture we use is profitable for our use or not. If it is brought about under false pretenses, then it is of questionable value. I was not dissecting every statement made by every Church leader throughout all time.

  8. Re: 4.

    True, although that really wasn’t my point. My point was that I sense the church over time has and will continue to de-emphasize the BoA due to all the negative publicity it has received. I used my mission experience to highlight an example of that.

  9. Jeff,

    If I were a prickly sort, I might take issue with that statement “One can take a cynical approach to all of it and talk themselves out of the church.” The basic foundation of faith is the witness of the Spirit — a gift of God, creating in us a desire to believe. Beyond that, much is left to our own reasoning. Missionaries have to use rational persuasion, after all, to teach investigators to recognize the witness of the Spirit for what it is. Not only do we have to use logic as one of our tools to measure whether a spiritual experience is in fact a personal revelation, since spiritual promptings are often less than specific, we have to use reasoning to decide what they signify.

    I do not believe it is at all “cynical” to insist that when we employ the tool of reason in examining sacred things, we use good reasoning.

    Define “false pretenses.” The Book of Abraham was certainly presented — evidently with Joseph’s approval, if not actually at his specific direction — as a literal translation of the Chandler papyri. As best as we can tell, it is not. How does this relate to whether we find the Book of Abraham spiritually profitable for our use? If it turns out that the Book of Deuteronomy was fabricated at the time of Josiah (long after its purported author Moses was dead), does that affect its spiritual profitability?

  10. My comment was mostly meant in response to #5, but I can certainly see how the discussion could veer off.

    Back to the OP, I think JS brought forth many things as you mentioned above, and I accept them as “true” regardless of the reliability of their origin. Perhaps “inspired” is a better word than “true”, because I don’t really know what “true” implies.

    The problem with defining something as “true” is that it also involves the reader. If it was perfectly possible to know what JS meant 100% with any of his writings, there wouldn’t be differing opinions. Some people felt that things in the PofGP implied that blacks could never have the priesthood – others didn’t. The CofC uses many of the same works of JS as we do, yet seem to have quite a different interpretation of many things. Which of these is “true” – I don’t know.

    The bigger question in my mind is what we do with them. I don’t think all of the “answers” are in a single book. I use the BofM, the Book of Abraham and the JST as study helps to try to wrap my mind around what is the “ultimate” truth. I also use the Qu’ran, the Baghavad Gita, the Dharmasada, and other things. I see truth in all of them. I accept JS as a prophet and am thankful for what he brought forth, but I think it is much more than that.

    Because of this, the true historicity of the BofA doesn’t really matter to me. It doesn’t matter whether JS actually translated characters or had his face in a hat while the plates were covered in another area. Truth will stand on its own.

  11. Jeff, thanks for the post.

    As for the logical leap at the end of the post, I don’t see the issue. Your suggestion is that if we accept Joseph as prophet and capable of producing these works, then we should accept them as true. Seems to me a fair suggestion, and a rational one. (I read this “should” as a suggestion, not a commandment.)

    Of course once we take that first step, then further study may confirm the truthfulness (acknowledging Mike S’ discomfort with that word, but not knowing how else to paraphrase Moroni) of those things just as it can do so with the Book of Mormon.

    I’m not a big fan of the notion that one thing proves another, like if the Book of Mormon is true, then everything Joseph said was right, or if you believe in the Savior you must also accept the Book of Mormon as true. But I do see that acceptance of one may lead to the other over time.

    There is clearly a place for faith in this process, and the suggestion at the end of the post is a good start on that path in my view.

  12. Pingback: The utter foreigness of Calvinism « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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    Thomas, #9

    I am sorry, I meant cynical in the broadest sense. Because, for me, the historicity of the entire Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious underpinnings can easily be called into question. Yes, there is some archaeological evidence, yes, there is some documentary transmission of ancient records, but one still has to connect the dots via faith.

    It would be very easy, using logic to say. “There is no physical evidence of the existence of Moses, therefore, I cannot conclude that he ever existed.” A person could be very justified in their thinking.

    False Pretenses? Simple. That Joseph made it all up. That he used the word “translated” because he, Joseph, meant the word translated in the traditional sense. Even though he had no skills in that area. But neither did anyone else in that area, so who would question him? That’s what I meant. I don’t believe that, but that would be what I was referring to.

    “The Book of Abraham was certainly presented — evidently with Joseph’s approval, if not actually at his specific direction — as a literal translation of the Chandler papyri. As best as we can tell, it is not.”

    Yes, I think it was presented that way. The only out is that the actual papyrus from where this “translation” came is not among the Papyri that was rediscovered and given to the Church.

    the Book of Moses was clearly given through revelation, as the D&C. If Joseph has said that the same thing applied to the Book of Abraham, the arguments against it would be different.

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    Mike S,

    “Because of this, the true historicity of the BofA doesn’t really matter to me. It doesn’t matter whether JS actually translated characters or had his face in a hat while the plates were covered in another area. Truth will stand on its own.”

    Then you and I are in agreement.

    As for the Black and the Priesthood thing, I think that it was a conclusion looking for support of the scriptures. In other words, you had this edict and so church leaders and other had to find a way to justify it through the scriptures. They didn’t do a very good job because it really wasn’t there to support it.

    But, as you and I both know, it is easy to take the vaguest of scriptures and apply it to something.

  15. “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.”

    Is that why the historicity doesn’t matter to you and MikeS?

  16. Jeff: Re #12

    The difference in the way the Book of Moses and Book of Abraham are presented as revelation vs translation has a lot to do with why the CofChrist includes the former in documents which are part of the canon, but not the latter.

    The historicity of the BofM presents different issues because it preceded everything else. If you don’t have a viable belief in the BofM as inspired (in whatever sense one personally wishes to define the term) why bother with the D&C or anything else afterward?

  17. #14 GBSmith

    I don’t quite agree with that sentiment. My reading of what you quoted implies that a belief that something “comes from God and is authentic” is a result of believing that that is so because JS was a prophet. My logic does not flow that way. I believe that JS was “A” prophet in the sense of revealing truth to the world that helps us be better people and get closer to God. But I also think there are more prophets that what we have in the LDS Church. I don’t necessarily trust anything “just” because anyone said it, including Joseph Smith, as he was a man just like the rest of us with his own feelings, passions, opinions, etc.

    The reason the historicity doesn’t matter to me is the same reason. Truth should be able to stand on its own. Everything religious we have (ie. BofM, D&C, etc) has “good” things that resonate with me and make me a better person. There are also things that seem “out-of-place”, like quotes of Shakespeare and talking about things presumptively in the Americans for which there is no evidence. But I also see truth in many, many other areas, from other Christian and non-Christian sources that have helped me every bit as much as what JS brought forth. I also consider Muhammed a prophet. I also consider Buddha a prophet.

    So I approach things more ambiguously. JS had a number of flaws (or things I can’t accept – like marrying other mens’ wives), but he brought forth much truth. I accept the truth and ignore the flaws. Similarly with our other prophets. ETB certainly had some crazy ideas, but he had some good ones. I don’t accept any single person or book or denomination as containing “ALL” truth.

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    Firetag,

    “The historicity of the BofM presents different issues because it preceded everything else. If you don’t have a viable belief in the BofM as inspired (in whatever sense one personally wishes to define the term) why bother with the D&C or anything else afterward?”

    I think that was a key part of the point I was making. But, the fact remains is that we do not know the exact method of translation that Joseph used for the BoA. While there appeared to be a physical thing, a Papyrus, it does not mean Joseph “used” the physical papyrus to exact the “translation.” We pretty much know that he didn’t translate the BoM using the plates but most likely a seer stone in a hat.

    The D&C is pure revelation, so if we are willing to accept the D&C in that manner, the others should be able to be accepted in the same manner.

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    GBSmith, #14

    “Is that why the historicity doesn’t matter to you and MikeS?”

    I wasn’t saying it didn’t matter, only implying that one cannot be selective about which historicity one is willing to accept and which one is not.

    WRT the BoA, there is enough doubt in my mind that not all papyri that Joseph possessed is around to determine whether or not, it contained the BoA. Certainly, the fragments that remain have been proven NOT to contain that text.

    On the other hand, I am also willing to accept the idea that Joseph’s “translation” was a revelatory one.

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  21. I read through Abraham several times today and was concerned about several things. The facsimiles, the multiple new words, the description of religion and history of Egypt, the reference to the flood and preservation of the blood of the canaanites, the repeated referencing of two of something, and the chapters related to the spiritual creation with the repeated use of the term “the Gods” are all things that I had trouble with. I can understand Jeff suspending any reliance on historicity given his level of faith and that some of the scrolls are missing. But for MikeS believing a generic truth such as Abraham’s demonstration of faith is one thing but the other truths, the names, the references to Kolob. etc., the reference to a spiritual creation by “the Gods” are another and totally dependent on historicity. There are several selected references in Abraham that are used repeatedly in talking about the plan of salvation but after reading it over today I can understand why as a total work it is less emphasized.

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  23. #12 JS:

    “It would be very easy, using logic to say. “There is no physical evidence of the existence of Moses, therefore, I cannot conclude that he ever existed.” A person could be very justified in their thinking.”

    Lowell Bennion quoted someone as saying that faith was “reason grown courageous.” A person of faith would not be justified in that thinking, if the existence of Moses was a critical article of the faith tradition he was following. Faith can reach out into the sphere were reason is inadequate, either because it’s not amenable to the questions being considered (the existence and nature of God, etc.), or because the facts are irretrievably lost in the mists of history. (In the latter case, we have to remain open to the possible need to change our thinking if new facts are discovered, and crowd out the “God of the gaps.”)

    But that is fundamentally different from a situation where the facts are known, with a degree of certainty that would be sufficient for us in other contexts. To analogize, if we would be willing, in serving on a jury, to hang a man based on DnA evidence, it would not be proper for us to ignore such evidence in other contexts where its reliability may be equally well established. Faith can go beyond reason — it should never contradict it.

    “’The Book of Abraham was certainly presented — evidently with Joseph’s approval, if not actually at his specific direction — as a literal translation of the Chandler papyri. As best as we can tell, it is not.’”

    Yes, I think it was presented that way. The only out is that the actual papyrus from where this “translation” came is not among the Papyri that was rediscovered and given to the Church.”

    I can’t find in myself the freedom to credit this theory. The big problem is that the first chapter of the Book of Abraham expressly incorporates by reference the Lion Couch illustration, which is part of the papyrus (which dates much later than Abraham’s time) in the Church’s possession. Occam’s Razor isn’t always required in matters of faith, but at some point, the search for “outs” becomes so frantic and so convoluted as to call into question whether the “out”-seeker is truly committed to seeking truth, rather than the answer he wants.

    I suppose it is possible that an ancient Egyptian funeral director might, for reasons unknown, have inserted a fifteen-hundred-year-old papyrus written by Abraham in the middle of his client’s Breathing Permit, and that Abraham might have foreseen this and analogized his near escape from being sacrificed to a depiction of an Egyptian’s preparation for burial which he knew would be “at the beginning of this record.” It’s also theoretically possible that a Satanic cult killed Scott Peterson’s wife, but only an idiotic defense lawyer completely devoid of scruple would find that theory credible. “Theoretically possible” is a completely useless category.

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    Thomas, 24,

    Thanks for the Lowell Bennion quote, I agree with it completely.

    “I can’t find in myself the freedom to credit this theory”

    In this case, there is sufficient evidence to make it more than theoretically possible. Given the condition of the Papyri which forms the Book of Breathings, it could not have been the source of the Book of Abraham simply because the description of those papyrus were that they were in prefect condition, beautifully written.

    While I do not want to debate the whole Book of Abraham thing again, I think my possible explanation does not compare with a Scott Peterson wild story.

  25. To believe what you just wrote, you have to discount Joseph’s own numerous entries in his journals stating he was “translating” the Egyptian scrolls, as well as his journal entries about creating the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar.

    It’s ridiculous on the face of it, and a worthy example of willful ignorance.

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