The Lord told Nephi in his great vision, “And after it had come forth unto them I beheld other books, which came forth by the power of the Lamb, from the Gentiles unto them, unto the convincing of the Gentiles and the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews who were scattered upon all the face of the earth, that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true.” (1 Nephi 13:39) Thus, we see that there were more records to come forth beside just the Book of Mormon.
Understanding the coming forth of the two texts within the Pearl of Great Price as well as the Joseph Smith Translation of the King James Bible is to understand the sacred powers of a seer. We must first acquire a testimony of ourselves that Joseph Smith was indeed a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator. Ammon, in the Book of Mormon, in talking to King Limhi in regards to the translation of some ancient texts that they had found, counseled on what a seer is and the power that is given to him.
He stated, “a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God. But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known. Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings.” (Mosiah 8:16-18)
We can certainly cite various Old Testament prophets as specific seers as they were able to behold great things both past, present, and future. Joseph as well held these great gifts. That was evidenced throughout his life from the translating of the Book of Mormon to the various revelations received and contained in the Doctrine and Covenants to personal interactions and through other works brought forth such as the Pearl of Great Price and JST of the Bible. These were all done through the gift that God had given him. Whether it be by means of a direct character for character translation or the Lord opening up visions of the heavens for him to record what he saw they came from God. They were divinely mandated as he went about in his role as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.
To gain a greater understanding of the first two books of the Pearl of Great Price we ought to understand the history behind these records. We ought to study the context of what brought them to light. Once we have an understanding of the origin context we can then better understand the purpose of these records and why we hold them so dear today alongside other sacred scripture.
The Book of Moses
The Bible begins with the Book of Genesis. We consider this a book of Moses, but in the Bible, we have no direct indication as to why. We understand through scholars that this portion of the Pentateuch was also recorded by Moses as was the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, but there is no indication in the scriptural record. The book begins without a distinct author with the words, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” We are subsequently carried on a journey through the creation and then the history of the world from Adam down through the ancients of Enoch, Noah, and Abraham. We then conclude with the Israelites dwelling in the land of Egypt at the death of Joseph.
With the coming forth of the book of Moses, through the seership of Joseph Smith, we have a clearer vision as to coming about of the book of Genesis.
The Book of Moses helps us to better understand the source for these writings by showing us the conversation held between the ancient deliverer of the Israelites, and the Great Deliverer upon the mount. As Moses discovers that he is a son of God and has divine potential he also learns that he is part of a much larger divine plan that is for the fulfilling of the work and glory of God. He is then given revelation as to the history of the very earth that he was upon. God stated to him, “Behold, I reveal unto you concerning this heaven, and this earth; write the words which I speak. I am the Beginning and the End, the Almighty God; by mine Only Begotten I created these things; yea, in the beginning I created the heaven, and the earth upon which thou standest.” (Moses 2:1)
Moses then recorded what he saw through the Creation, the Fall, and the passing of the gospel through the ancients. How blessed are we to have this conversation of God with his son Moses that we might see the relationship that we all have with our Beloved Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son.
Shortly after completion of the Book of Mormon and establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith was commanded to begin an inspired translation of the Bible. This was not to be done from the original Hebrew and Greek texts but was to be inspired beginning with the King James Bible as the text to translate from.
“The initial draft of his Bible translation was made between June 1830 and July 1833. However, the short excerpt that we recognize as the book of Moses, being the early part of Genesis, was completed in its first draft by February 1831. According to the dates given in the original manuscripts and in other sources, Moses chapter 1 was first recorded in June 1830; chapters 2–6 between June and December 1, 1830; chapter 7 in the latter part of December; and chapter 8 after February 1 but before March 8, 1831.” (Robert J. Matthews, How We Got the Book of Moses, Ensign Jan 1986).
Sections of the Book of Moses were then shared throughout the years in various church publications. In 1851 Elder Franklin D. Richards had compiled many of the chapters of Moses with various sections from the modern day Doctrine & Covenants, the Book of Abraham, and other writings into a pamphlet for sharing throughout Britain. It wasn’t until 1878 when Elder Orson Pratt edited and arranged the Pearl of Great Price content to include the entirety of the Book of Moses as we have it today, in its chronological order. This edition also had some key textual edits.
“A comparison with the original manuscripts of the JST reveals that the Moses material in the 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great Price closely follows the text of the earlier revisions, whereas the Moses material of the 1878 edition of the Pearl of Great Price represents generally the text of the Prophet Joseph’s latest revisions.” (Ibid)
The Book of Moses contains great truths about the purpose of the existence of this earth, it’s coming into being, the fall, and the subsequent salvation of man from the Fall through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Moses, having known these things, was then fully prepared to deliver Israel from their bondage. He knew how to talk to God and receive divine revelation. He knew that God had a higher purpose and would then fulfill what He promised. This played a key role in the parting of the Red Sea and leading the whole of Israel. His witness and experience can stand as a strength to each of us to better work out our salvation throughout mortality to becoming like God, our Father.
The Book of Abraham
In 1835 a man named Michael Chandler was touring the Eastern United States with some mummies and papyri scrolls from Egyptian catacombs. Joseph Smith had then acquired these items through purchasing them from Mr. Chandler with money secured through two major donors and small donations by the Saints. From the Prophet’s history we read, “On the 3rd of July, Michael H. Chandler came to Kirtland to exhibit some Egyptian mummies. There were four human figures, together with some two or more rolls of papyrus covered with hieroglyphic figures and devices. As Mr. Chandler had been told I could translate them, he brought me some of the characters, and I gave him the interpretation.” (History of the Church 2:235)
He then felt impressed to translate them for our prophet and learning (see note on translation below). Regardless of how these came into our possession, it is evident that the Lord desired us to have the Book of Abraham to give us clearer insight into Father Abraham, the Abrahamic Covenant, the Creation, the Fall, and our Premortal Existence. There are divine truths that are contained within this sacred record for our prophet and learning.
Thank God for these additional inspired records that have come forth. They are truly testaments of Jesus Christ, his divinity, and role in our lives and for the exaltation of mankind.
President Joseph Fielding Smith taught,
“There has never been a step taken from that day [ancient times] to this, in discovery or invention, where the Spirit of the Lord … was not the prevailing force, resting upon the individual, which caused him to make the discovery or the invention. … Nor did the Lord always use those who have faith, nor does he always do so today. He uses such minds as are pliable and can be turned in certain directions to accomplish his work, whether they believe in him or not. …
“Now, do you think that these discoveries and inventions … have come just because these men have been sitting down and concentrating their minds upon these matters and have discovered them though their thought or accidentally? Not in the least, but the Spirit of the Lord, the Light of Christ, has been back of it. … We are ready for these discoveries, these inventions, and they all have a bearing upon the restoration of the gospeland preparation for the time which is yet future, but which is shortly to come, when Christ shall reign on the earth, and for a thousand years peace shall be established.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., comp. Bruce R. McConkie (1954–56), 1:178, 180–81)
Father Lehi taught in the Book of Mormon a prophecy of Joseph, who was sold into Egypt that the covenants made to his posterity would be remembered and “that the Messiah should be made manifest unto them in the latter days, in the spirit of power, unto the bringing of them out of darkness unto light.” (2 Nephi 3:5) The Book of Mormon, Doctrine, and Covenants, Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, and the Pearl of Great Price all work together with the Bible to accomplish this very promise. The key component of each of these is to manifest the Messiah in power to illuminate the whole of mankind.
As we have looked at these works coming to light to help accomplish the promise mentioned above it is through an inspired translation that this has taken place. Translation is an interesting term. Speaking on the topic of translation I quote here Michael D. Rhodes, a researcher in ancient scripture at BYU, as published in the July 1988 Ensign.
“While translating the Book of Mormon, he used the Urim and Thummim rather than dictionaries and grammars of the language. Translating with the Urim and Thummim is evidently a much different process than using the tools of scholarly research.
“Section seven of the Doctrine and Covenants provides us with a good example of that process. It is a revelation given to the Prophet through the Urim and Thummim of a translation of a “record made on parchment by John [the Revelator] and hidden up by himself.” (See section heading to D&C 7.) In other words, the document being translated wasn’t even in the Prophet’s possession; yet by means of the Urim and Thummim he was able to translate it.
“His translation of the Bible, parts of which are in the book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, was also done without having the original text before him. Instead, while he was using the King James Version of the Bible, the correct meaning or content was revealed to him, including extensive revelations of both Enoch and Moses that are not found in the King James Version.
“We can envision a possible similar process taking place in Joseph Smith’s translation of the papyri he got from Michael Chandler. Instead of making a literal translation, as scholars would use the term, he used the Urim and Thummim as a means of receiving revelation. Even though a copy of Abraham’s record possibly passed through the hands of many scribes and had become editorially corrupted to the point where it may have had little resemblance to the original, the Prophet—with the Urim and Thummim, or simply through revelation—could have obtained the translation—or, as Joseph Smith used the word, he could have received the meaning, or subject-matter content of the original text, as he did in his translation of the Bible. This explanation would mean that Joseph Smith received the text of our present book of Abraham the same way he received the translation of the parchment of John the Revelator—he did not even need the actual text in front of him.
“In reality, the actual method Joseph Smith used is far less important than the resulting book of scripture he produced. But here the Prophet’s critics prefer to ignore the evidence of the text itself. The book of Abraham should be evaluated on the basis of what it claims to be: a record of Abraham. A wealth of material on Abraham has come to light since the Prophet’s text was published, and the book of Abraham compares astoundingly well with these documents. (Hugh Nibley has discussed in detail the correlations between the book of Abraham and the subsequently discovered texts on Abraham. See Abraham in Egypt, 1981, and The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, An Egyptian Endowment, 1975, both published by Deseret Book Company.)” – See Article Here
As we can see here, there are a variety of meanings to the word “translate”. Just as we would ask a doctor or lawyer to “translate” into layman’s terms, we wouldnt be asking for
BYU Professor Tracing Path of Book of Abraham Papyri – Ensign June 1985
Andrew Skinner, The Book of Abraham – Ensign March 1997
Richard D. Draper, The Remarkable Book of Moses – Ensign February 1997
Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham – Gospel Topics Essays
Abraham in Egypt
The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, An Egyptian Endowment