adjustment to the book of abraham in the new edition of the scriptures

So you noticed the change regarding the Book of Abraham in the introduction to the Pearl of Great Price, and you want to situate it a little. Well here is a rundown of some pertinent information.

The heading to the William W. Phelps and Warren Parrish Copy of Abraham Manuscript (Summer—Fall, 1835):

Translation of the Book of Abraham written by his own hand upon papyrus and found in the CataCombs of Egypts

The heading to the Willard Richards Copy of Abraham Manuscript (early 1842):

A. Translation of Some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catacombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the Book ofAbraham, written by his own hand upon papyrus,

THE. BOOK. of A,BR,A,HAM.

The heading to the the Book of Abraham as published in the Times and Seasons (March 1842):

A TRANSLATION
Of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catecombs 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.
The Book of Abraham.

From the contents page of the 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great Price:

The Book of Abraham.—A Translation of some Ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands 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. Translated from the Papyrus by Joseph Smith.

The heading to the Book of Abraham from the same edition:

The Book of Abraham
“A translation of the some ancient records, that have fallen into our hands 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.”—Times & Seasons, Vol. III. P. 704.
(Translated from the Papyrus, by Joseph Smith)

From the contents page of the 1878 edition (n.b. that the words “purporting to be” are excluded from this and all subsequent editions):

The Book of Abraham, 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. Translated from the Papyrus by Joseph Smith.

The heading to the Book of Abraham in the same edition:

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.—Times and Seasons, Vol. III, p.704.

Canonization of the Pearl of Great Price (October 1880), as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune (underlining is mine):

George Q. Cannon said I hold in my hand the Book of Doctrine and Covenants and also the book The Pearl of Great Price, which books contain revelations of God. In Kirtland, the Doctrine and Covenants in its original form, as first printed, was submitted to the officers of the Church and the members of the Church to vote upon[.] As there have been additions made to it by the publishing of revelations which were not contained in the original edition, it has been deemed wise to submit these books with their contents to the Conference, to see whether the Conference will vote to accept the books and their contents as from God, and binding upon us as a people and as a Church.

Joseph F. Smith said I move that we receive and accept the revelations contained in these books as revelations from God to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to all the world[.]

The motion was seconded and sustained by unanimous vote of the whole Conference.

From the contents page of the 1902 edition:

The Book of Abraham:–
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.

The heading to the Book of Abraham in the same edition:

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.

From the introductory note in the 1981 edition:

The Book of Abraham. A translation from some Egyptian papyri that came into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835, containing writings of the patriarch Abraham. The translation was published serially in the Times and Seasons beginning March 1, 1842, at Nauvoo, Illinois. See History of the Church, vol. 4, pp. 519-534.

The heading to the Book of Abraham in the same edition:

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. See History of the Church, vol. 2, pp. 235, 236, 348-351.

And now, the adjustment in the introduction to the 2013 edition:

The Book of Abraham. An inspired translation of the writings of Abraham. Joseph Smith began the translation in 1835 after obtaining some Egyptian papyri. The translation was published serially in the Times and Seasons beginning March 1, 1842, at Nauvoo, Illinois.

The heading to the Book of Abraham has not been adjusted in the new edition:

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.

So about this adjustment …What is an “inspired translation”? How significant is it that the words ‘translation’ and ‘papyri’ have been divided into separate sentences? Does this help solve the problem of the relationship between the Book of Abraham and the papyri, or is it essentially ignoring the problem?

Had you been on the committee, what changes regarding the Book of Abraham would you have wanted to make, if any? For instance, why not restore the words “purporting to be,” given that they are in the Willard Richards manuscript, the Times and Seasons, plus the first edition of the Pearl of Great Price?

By the way, for more information, see the rest of the Egyptian materials among the Joseph Smith Papers, including what is left of the papyri, as well as the Valuable discovery of hiden records (circa July–circa December 1835), which begins like this:

Valuable Discovery of hiden reccords that have been obtained from the ancient buring place of the Egyptians
Joseph Smith Jr.

Also, check out the other primary documents here. For instance, you might go back and re-read Oliver Cowdery’s letter (October 1835), which demonstrates how a biblically-saturated mind eager for additional lost scripture to be found was able read Genesis, not to mention Revelation, into the papyri. And don’t miss Elder George Reynolds 1879 apologetical work (teaser: “Abraham superintended the erection of the pyramids”).

 

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  • http://ldsanarchy.wordpress.com/ LDS Anarchist

    I would have written it this way:

    The Book of Abraham. An inspired translation from some Egyptian papyri that came into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835, containing writings of the patriarch Abraham. Joseph Smith began translating it in 1835 and a part of the translation was published serially in the Times and Seasons beginning March 1, 1842, at Nauvoo, Illinois. The published part is what is known to us as the Book of Abraham. The descriptions of the scroll the book was translated from do not match the scrolls currently in church possession, indicating it has since been lost or destroyed. The unpublished part of the translation from that scroll has also been lost.

    Or something to that effect.

    Eyewitnesses from the Nauvoo period (1839–1844) describe “a quantity of records, written on papyrus, in Egyptian hieroglyphics,” including (1) some papyri “preserved under glass,” described as “a number of glazed slides, like picture frames, containing sheets of papyrus, with Egyptian inscriptions and hieroglyphics”; (2) “a long roll of manuscript” that contained the Book of Abraham; (3) “another roll”; (4) and “two or three other small pieces of papyrus with astronomical calculations, epitaphs, &c.” Only the mounted fragments ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and thence were given back to the Church of Jesus Christ. When eyewitnesses described the vignettes as being of the mounted fragments, they can be matched with the fragments from the Metropolitan Museum of Art; but when the vignettes described are on the rolls, the descriptions do not match any of the fragments from the Met. Gustavus Seyffarth’s 1856 catalog of the Wood Museum indicates that some of the papyri were there. Those papyri went to Chicago and were burned in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Whatever we might imagine their contents to be is only conjecture. Both Mormon and non-Mormon eyewitnesses from the nineteenth century agree that it was a “roll of papyrus from which our prophet translated the Book of Abraham,” meaning the “long roll of manuscript” and not one of the mounted fragments that eventually ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    “The Prophet Joseph himself has supplied us with the most conclusive evidence that the manuscript today identified as the Book of Breathings, J.S. Papyri X and XI, was not in his opinion the source of the Book of Abraham. For he has furnished a clear and specific description of the latter: ‘The record of Abraham and Joseph, found with the mummies, is (1) beautifully written on papyrus, with black, and (2) a small part red, ink or paint, (3) in perfect preservation.’…

    Since Joseph Smith actually possessed quite a number of perfectly preserved, beautifully written Egyptian manuscripts adorned with rubrics [red characters], there is no reason to doubt that he was describing such a document as the source of ‘the record of Abraham and Joseph.’ And there can be no doubt whatever that the manuscript he was describing was and is an entirely different one from that badly written, poorly preserved little text, entirely devoid of rubrics, which is today identified as the Book of Breathings. One cannot insist too strongly on this point, since it is precisely the endlessly repeated claim that the Book of Breathings has been ‘identified as the very source of the Book of Abraham’ on which the critics of Joseph Smith have rested their whole case….”

    Then there is the scribal author view of the Book of Abraham, which solves a couple more mysteries:

    http://ldsanarchy.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/the-two-authors-of-the-book-of-abraham/

  • g.wesley

    Thanks for sharing, LDS Anarchist.

    I would agree with you that JS and others (thought they) were translating from the papyri, and I would add that they were earnest in their attempts.

    The lost papyrus theory does not work for me personally, but I am just one person.

    Given your blog post, you might enjoy this by Kevin Barney, if you haven’t seen it already:

    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=40&chapid=168

    And going along with the quotes you provided from John Gee and Hugh Nibley, here are some links for those who may want to follow up (though I don’t see Nibley’s Message of the JS Papyri directly available online):

    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=19&num=2&id=670&cat_id=308

    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=5&num=1&id=127

  • http://ldsanarchy.wordpress.com/ LDS Anarchist

    g.wesley,

    Thanks for the Barney link. No, I had never read that before. I noticed the apparent scribal commentary in April 2012 when I wrote that post. I don’t know of anyone else who has published anything about that. I wonder if it would be possible to determine from the text that the writings styles are sufficiently distinct to indicate separate authors and not just parentheticals. The idea presents very interesting possibilities.

    Justin once asked me:

    So this “second author” was essentially a scribal commentator — interjecting commentary where he/she felt it appropriate to add explanations?

    My answer was:

    That’s what it looks like to me. He got a hold of these records (of both Abraham and Joseph), or as he says, “the records have come into my hands | which i hold unto this present time” and “the records of the fathers | even the patriarchs | concerning the right of priesthood | the lord | my god | preserved in mine own hands.” Also, “a knowledge of [these things] | as they were made known unto the fathers | have i kept | even unto this day | and i shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record | for the benefit of my posterity | that shall come after me.”

    So, it looks like some patriarch, who inherited these records, decided to write them upon these multiple scrolls, addressing himself to some unnamed person (perhaps both his name and the name of the person he was addressing were included in the scrolls that are missing), with the understanding that these scrolls would be for the instruction of his posterity, and he takes it upon himself to not just write the scriptures which he possessed, but to also expound them to his posterity, doing, essentially, what the Nephite missionaries did, reading and expounding the scriptures to their investigators, walking them through them from beginning to end.

    The scrolls then, would, of course, be copies of the writings of Abraham and Joseph. And since this is a mixture of scriptural quotation and commentary, there would possibly be portions, perhaps even great portions, dedicated to mundane matters, meaning just writings of the original author talking about things that do not have to do with theology. In other words, it may have been a group of scrolls that dealt in both secular and scriptural matters, for the instruction of posterity.

    Of particular emphasis, though, by this unnamed author, is his focus on the right of the priesthood, the creation, the stars and planets and delineating the chronology from him back to creation, almost as if these scrolls were to demonstrate that he, and his seed, were entitled by lineage to the right of the priesthood. (And because of this emphasis, I suspect the author was male.)

    Now, maybe this is a false reading on my part, and perhaps it doesn’t show two authors, but if it does and if the indentations I made are correct, indicating who is writing what, then I find it interesting that we often quote the expository comments as authoritative text, attributing the whole thing to Abraham. Nevertheless, even if this reading is correct, and we have commentary by some unknown man in our scriptures, the commentary itself appears (to me) to be given by the power of the Holy Ghost, and thus trustworthy as the word of God.

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