The Pearl of Great Price
The Pearl of Great Price is a canonized book of scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This small book contains a selection of revelations, translations, and other Joseph Smith documents, though the book itself did not exist during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. The first edition of the Pearl of Great Price was published in 1851 by Franklin D. Richards, who was serving as the president of the church’s British Mission. This new compilation gave Latter-day Saints in the British Isles ready access to a select few of Joseph Smith’s revelatory texts. The Pearl of Great Price was eventually adopted as Latter-day Saint scripture; it was officially canonized on 10 October 1880 by a vote at a general conference of the church.
Over the years, texts have been added and removed from the Pearl of Great Price. (For more information on the texts Richards included in the original Pearl of Great Price, see the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.) In 1878, for example, the book of Moses was expanded to include passages Richards did not have access to in 1851. In addition, several revelations were removed from the Pearl of Great Price in 1902 because they were by then included in the Doctrine and Covenants.
The present edition of the Pearl of Great Price comprises five sections, each described below. Hyperlinks lead to the earliest extant versions of these documents, as found on the Joseph Smith Papers website.
In June 1830, Joseph Smith dictated a revelation regarding many important figures from the Old Testament. The text contains “the words of God which he spake unto Moses,” including teachings about the Creation and its purpose, the premortal existence, the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the introduction of the gospel to Adam and Eve and their descendants. The opening “visions of Moses” became the initial pages of Joseph Smith’s ambitious project to prepare what early Saints saw as an inspired revision of the Bible, sometimes called the “Joseph Smith Translation.”
Book of Moses, Chapter 1 (Visions of Moses) is also available separately on the website, complete with an introduction and annotation.
This first-person narrative of the Old Testament patriarch Abraham came from Joseph Smith’s translation of ancient papyrus scrolls purchased from Michael Chandler, an antiquities dealer who visited Kirtland, Ohio, in July 1835. The translation was eventually published in the church newspaper Times and Seasons in 1842, together with facsimiles of some of the drawings found on the Egyptian papyri.
For a list of other original documents and resources related to Joseph Smith’s work with the Egyptian papyri, see Book of Abraham and Egyptian Material. Introductions here and here give further information about these documents.
This inspired revision of Matthew, chapter 24, was part of Joseph Smith’s larger effort to translate the Bible. Two copies of Joseph Smith’s revision of the New Testament exist: an earlier, incomplete manuscript consisting of part of the Gospel of Matthew; and a later manuscript of the entire New Testament. For Matthew 24, New Testament Manuscript 1 represents the original and New Testament Manuscript 2 a security copy. Perhaps because this chapter of Matthew details signs preceding Jesus Christ’s second coming, Joseph Smith’s revision was deemed important enough in the eyes of early church leaders that a broadside of the text was printed, probably around 1835.
The New Testament manuscripts, including what is now Joseph Smith—Matthew in the Pearl of Great Price, will be published on the website in coming months, as will the broadside. For another early published version of Joseph Smith’s revision of Matthew 24, see John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church.
In 1838, Joseph Smith began a history of his life and the early days of the Latter-day Saint movement. Over the next eighteen years, scribes and church historians extended the account until it covered Joseph Smith’s entire life. This narrative is found within the larger Manuscript History of the Church and comprises six large volumes. It was published serially in church newspapers beginning in 1842 and, beginning in 1902, was published in book form by B. H. Roberts as The History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The excerpt from Joseph Smith’s history found in the Pearl of Great Price begins with a summary of the circumstances of Joseph Smith’s birth and early life leading up to his first vision of Deity. The excerpt also describes visits from the angel Moroni, Joseph Smith’s unearthing of the gold plates, his marriage to Emma Hale, his translation of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood through John the Baptist, and Joseph Smith’s and Oliver Cowdery’s baptisms.
A long endnote in the current edition of the Pearl of Great Price includes excerpts from a series of letters Oliver Cowdery wrote to William W. Phelps about the angel Moroni’s visits with Joseph Smith, the discovery of the gold plates containing the Book of Mormon, and Cowdery’s experiences acting as scribe for Smith. The letters were published in the church newspaper Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate in October 1834 and copied into an earlier Joseph Smith history.
For more information about the various accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision, see Primary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision of Deity.
This thirteen-point summary of the beliefs of Latter-day Saints, now known as the Articles of Faith, was included in a letter from Joseph Smith to John Wentworth, the editor of the Chicago Democrat. The original “Wentworth letter” has not been located, but a copy was published in the Times and Seasons in March 1842. The Articles of Faith build on a summary of beliefs presented in Orson Pratt’s A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions.