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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