The Pearl of Great Price is one of the four standard works, or scriptures, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). The other standard works are the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants. The Pearl of Great Price is the shortest work of scripture in the Mormon canon and is comprised of five other works. These works are:
Selections from the Book of Moses
This work includes eight chapters relating events from the Creation up to and including God declaring the coming Great Flood to Noah. These chapters are from Joseph Smith, Jr.'s translation of the Bible, which was begun in June 1830, and approximately correlate with the first six chapters of the book of Genesis.
The Book of Abraham
This book is the translation of some Egyptian papyri that Joseph Smith, Jr., acquired in 1835 from a traveling dealer in Egyptian artifacts. Smith paid the dealer $2,400 for a mummy, papyri, and artifacts, equivalent to about $66,000 in today’s dollars. Smith claimed that the papyri contained writings of the biblical prophet Abraham, which included additional historic information beyond that which is found in the Bible as well as teachings about the Creation. Smith then claimed that he could translate the Egyptian papyri, publishing his translations as The Book of Abraham. The book contains reproductions of three drawings, called facsimiles, which were included with the original papyri. The Book of Abraham was originally published as a series of articles in the Mormon newspaper Times and Seasons beginning March 1, 1842, in Nauvoo, Illinois. Smith claimed that the papyri he purchased were the original writings of Abraham, and hence older than the book of Genesis. The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual presents Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Abraham as evidence of the validity of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling:
The book of Abraham is an evidence of the inspired calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It came forth at a time when the study of the ancient Egyptian language and culture was just beginning. The scholars of the 1800s had scarcely begun to explore the field of Egyptology, and yet, with no formal training in ancient languages and no knowledge of ancient Egypt (except his work with the Book of Mormon), Joseph Smith began his translation of the ancient manuscripts. His knowledge and ability came through the power and gift of God, together with his own determination and faith.
For many years it was thought that the papyri that Joseph Smith purchased perished in the 1871 Chicago fire. However, on November 27, 1967, the Mormon newspaper Desert News published a significant announcement:
NEW YORK — A collection of papyrus manuscripts, long believed to have been destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871, was presented to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints here Monday by the Metropolitan Museum of Art . . . Included in the papyri is a manuscript identified as the original document from which Joseph Smith had copied the drawing which he called ‘Facsimile No. 1’ and published with the Book of Abraham.
This finding allowed qualified Egyptologists to examine the document which Joseph Smith claimed he was translating the original words of Abraham. It was found to be an excerpt from the widely known Egyptian funerary text “Book of Breathings,” and the particular document was dated to sometime in the first century BC or the first century AD. The following statements are from qualified Egyptologists who have examined the plates from which Joseph Smith “translated” in order to derive the Book of Abraham. The first is from Dr. Arthur Mace, Assistant Curator for the Department of Egyptian Art of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York:
The Book of Abraham, it is hardly necessary to say, is a pure fabrication. Cuts 1 and 3 are inaccurate copies of well-known scenes on funeral papyri, and cut 2 is a copy of one of the magical discs which in the late Egyptian period were placed under the heads of mummies. There were about forty of these latter known in museums and they are all very similar in character. Joseph Smith’s interpretation of these cuts is a farrago of nonsense from the beginning to end. Egyptian characters can now be read almost as easily as Greek, and five minutes’ study in an Egyptian gallery of any museum should be enough to convince any educated man of the clumsiness of the imposture.
Dr. A. H. Sayce of Oxford University:
It is difficult to deal seriously with Joseph Smith’s impudent fraud. The facsimile from the Book of Abraham No. 2 is an ordinary hypocephalus, but the hieroglyphics upon it have been copied so ignorantly that hardly one of them is correct. I need scarce say that Kolob, etc., are unknown to the Egyptian language . . . Smith has turned the Goddess into a king and Osiris into Abraham.
Dr. Flinders Petrie of London University:
In the first place, they are copies (very badly done) of well known Egyptian subjects of which I have dozens of examples. Secondly, they are all many centuries later than Abraham . . . the attempts to guess a meaning for them, in the professed explanations, are too absurd to be noticed. It may be safely said that there is not one single word that is true in these explanations.Dr. James H. Breasted, University of Chicago:
The three facsimiles in question represent equipment which will be and has been found in unnumbered thousands of Egyptian graves . . . The point, then, is that in publishing these facsimiles of Egyptian documents as part of an unique revelation to Abraham, Joseph Smith was attributing to Abraham not three unique documents of which no other copies exist, but was attributing to Abraham a series of documents which were the common property of a whole nation of people who employed them in every human burial, which they prepared.
Dee Jay Nelson, a Mormon Egyptologist who examined and translated the papyri, concluded that the Book of Abraham is a false translation and the Church should abandon it.
Translated or Not Translated?
When it became clear that the words that Joseph Smith ascribed to the facsimiles in order to produce the Book of Abraham had no relevance to the texts from which he said contained the message, other explanations were offered by LDS apologists of this embarrassing discrepancy. An example of such an attempt is given on the lds.org Web site that presents the view that Joseph Smith was not really translating.
Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham . . . Scholars have identified the papyrus fragments as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies. These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived . . . Alternatively, Joseph’s study of the papyri may have led to a revelation about key events and teachings in the life of Abraham, much as he had earlier received a revelation about the life of Moses while studying the Bible. This view assumes a broader definition of the words translator and translation. According to this view, Joseph’s translation was not a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.Joseph Smith, however, repeatedly said that he was translating, and the translation was from the papyri he had in his possession. This is stated in the heading of the book itself:
The Book of Abraham; Translated from the papyrus, by Joseph Smith A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand upon papyrus.Smith’s notes in the History of the Church:
The remainder of this month [July 1835], I was continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients.
The Book of Abraham’s Effect on Trust in LDS Church Doctrines
Because all qualified scholars who have investigated the subject have declared that Joseph Smith’s Book of Abraham is a fraud, many members of the LDS church have come to question their faith in the church and its doctrines. John Dehlin is a fifth generation Mormon and founder of the Mormon Stories podcast. In 2011 he conducted of survey of 3,000 former Mormons in order to determine the factors that led them to leave the Mormon Church. Among the most cited reasons for their abandoning the Church and its doctrines were 1) the realization that Joseph Smith’s supposed translation of the Book of Abraham was a fraud (59% of respondents), polygamy/polyandry (59%), blacks and the priesthood (55%).
Joseph Smith - Matthew
Joseph Smith - History
This is Joseph Smith, Jr.'s own account of the events that transpired to bring to light the Book of Mormon. This includes his confusion as a youth with the myriad different churches, his First Vision of God and Jesus Christ (or just God the Father, or just angels, according to the different and mutually contradictory early accounts), visits by the angel Moroni, and Joseph's receiving of the original Book of Mormon writings. This work was first written in 1838 and published as a series of articles in the Times and Seasons beginning March 15, 1842. Despite the claim that the “History” is in Joseph Smith’s own words, later editors have done much alteration in order to adjust to changing teachings of the LDS Church. According to one comparison of present editions with the first edition, more than 62,000 words have been either added or deleted from the way it was first published. As an example, Joseph Smith related the following in the first edition:
Then went to John P. Greene’s, and paid him and another brother $200. Drank a glass of beer at Moessers. Called at William Clayton’s . . .
When this was reprinted in the History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 424, seven words were deleted:
Then went to John P. Greene’s, and paid him and another brother $200. Called at William Clayton’s . . .
The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
These 13 articles were originally written in response to a request to Joseph Smith, Jr., for a brief history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were intended as a brief doctrinal summary. They were originally published March 1, 1842, in the Times and Seasons.
- History of the Church, vol. 1, pp. 98-101, 131-139.
- History of the Church, vol. 4, pp. 519-534.
- The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, Religion 327, LDS Church, 2000, p. 29.
- ”Book of Abraham: Translation or Invention?” in Salt Lake City Messenger” 123 (Oct. 2014): 2.
- Gospel Topics: Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham on www.lds.org.
- Survey results John Dehlin, “Understanding Mormon Disbelief,” 2012.
- Doctrine and Covenants 45:60-61
- Introductory Note
- Jerald and Sandra Tanner, 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, ND), 15. For an analysis of the many changes in Joseph Smith’s History, see Jerald Tanner, Changes in Joseph Smith’s History (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1965).
- From the Millennial Star, vol. 23, p. 720, as cited in Jerald and Sandra Tanner, 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon, 15.
- History of the Church, vol. 4, pp. 535-541.