Three installments of the Book of Abraham, printed in three issues of the Times and Seasons. Each installment begins on the first page of its respective issue. Each issue comprises eight leaves (sixteen pages) measuring 9 × 5⅝ inches (23 × 14 cm). Facsimile 2, which was printed separately on an oversized sheet and later tipped, or pasted, into the issue, measures 11⅞ × 8⅝ inches (30 × 22 cm). On each page of the narrative text of the Book of Abraham, the type is set in two columns. The version of the Times and Seasons used for the transcription was taken from a bound copy of volumes 1, 2, and 3 of the Times and Seasons. Bound in a three-quarter case binding with black leather and textured cloth, the book measures 9 × 6 × 2¼ inches (23 × 15 × 6 cm). Because the volume bears no markings from either the Historian’s Office or other previous owners, it is unknown how long it has been in the custody of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A loose copy of this broadside exists. It measures 12 × 9⅜ inches (30 × 24 cm). This larger size suggests that the sheets bearing Facsimile 2 may have been cut down when tipped into the newspaper. (A Fac-simile from the Book of Abraham, No. 2. [Nauvoo, IL, 1842], copy at CHL.)
A Fac-simile from the Book of Abraham, No. 2. [Nauvoo, IL, 1842]. Copy at CHL.
Until 1842, the Book of Abraham existed only in manuscript form and was therefore read by only a few people. When JS officially claimed editorship of the church-owned Times and Seasons, beginning with the 1 March 1842 issue, he published the first installment of the Book of Abraham, along with Facsimile 1 (an illustration from the Egyptian papyri) and accompanying explanations of various figures depicted in the illustration. Subsequent issues contained additional text from the Book of Abraham as well as two additional facsimiles with explanations of the figures they depicted.
“The saints,” read an editorial drafted in 1842, “have long been anxious to obtain a copy of these rec[o]rds.” As early as 1835, JS and other members of the had disseminated news of JS’s interpretation of the Egyptian papyri. Just days after the initial purchase of the mummies and papyri by JS and others, , a missionary preaching in western , “heard from and learned concerning the translating of certain egyptian record.” explained to his wife, , that the papyrus rolls “contained the sacred record kept of Joseph in Pharaoh’s Court in Egypt, and the teachings of Father Abraham.” In August, a newspaper reported that had “commenced travelling about the country” to spread news of the recent acquisition of the Egyptian records. This sharing of the news of recent discoveries continued as interested parties sought a chance to see the mummies, view the papyri, and listen to JS speak about those objects.
Before publishing the record in 1842, JS at times spoke with visitors and associates about the mummies, the papyri, and the Book of Abraham. For example, on 11 February 1836, JS “spent the afternoon in reading, and exibiting the Egy[p]tian records to those who called to see me.” A group of missionaries reported in late 1836 that they “viewed four Egyptian Mumies & also the Book of Abram Written by his own hand.” Anson Call recalled traveling to , Missouri, in 1838. He happened upon opening boxes of records, including the Bible revision manuscript and the “Egyptian Records.” Carrying the boxes to JS, the two joined a group of Saints who were invited by JS to “sit down and we will read to you from the translations of the Book of Abraham.” In 1841, recent convert visited , Illinois, and reported his visit with JS: “Viewed four ‘mummies,’ males, and three females, brought from ancient Thebes, in Egypt. Saw the roll of Pappyrus, and the writing thereon.”
JS occasionally shared the contents of the Book of Abraham in more public settings as well. In May 1838, JS gave a discourse “of Abrahams writings upon the Plannettary System.” According to one source, JS spoke at the October 1839 general conference and “related some very interesting facts which he has lately translated from the records which came with the Mummies.” In 1841, JS preached on the Godhead, explaining that “Theses personages according to Abrahams record are called God the first, the creator God the second, the redeamer, & God the third, the witness or Testator.” In another discourse in 1841, JS clarified the doctrines of premortal existence of souls and of spirits as intelligences, which are also found in the Book of Abraham.
Shortly after the initial purchase of the papyri, JS and his colleagues had planned to publish his translation of the Egyptian papyri. wrote in July 1835 that they planned to translate “these records of old times” and “print them in a book.” , a co-purchaser with JS, recalled that he was told “the profits arising from the work when translated would be more than adequate to the defraying all the expence which might accrue by the purchase.” In writing to William Frye in late 1835, also alluded to plans to publish a book containing the Book of Abraham material, saying, “When the translation of these valuable documents will be completed, I am unable to say; neither can I give you a probable idea how large volumes they will make.”
Despite these plans, circumstances forced JS to wait until the had settled in to showcase the Book of Abraham more broadly. By summer 1841, JS was intending to translate more from the Book of Abraham, but he apparently did not resume the translation until the next year when preparing the text for the Times and Seasons. On 4 February 1842, JS finalized the purchase of the Times and Seasons office. On 19 February 1842, recorded in his journal that JS had the Egyptian “records in his possession for several years, but has never presented them before the world in the english language untill now.” Woodruff on that day “had the privilege . . . of assisting in setting the TIPEfor printing the first peace of the BOOK OF ABRAHAM that is to be presented to the inhabitants of the EARTH in the LASTDAYS.” JS’s journal notes that four days later, he gave “instructions concerning the cut” or woodcut of Facsimile 1, which would accompany the text of the Book of Abraham.
The first two issues of the Times and Seasons under JS’s editorship—dated 1 March and 15 March 1842—contained the full text of the Book of Abraham along with the first two facsimiles. The issue dated 16 May 1842 reproduced the third and final facsimile. Each facsimile also had accompanying explanations of the images. The 1 March issue published the portion of the Book of Abraham text that was produced in , Ohio. The 15 March issue published the remainder of the text, which was produced in . Despite promises to publish further material from the Book of Abraham, no additional text or illustrations were ever published and no extant manuscript copy of the Book of Abraham contains additional content.
An editorial that was drafted (but never published) for JS’s first issue of the Times and Seasons clarifies his motivations for publishing the Book of Abraham. Wanting to “furnish much original matter” for the newspaper, JS planned to publish “specimens” of “varioes records of anci[e]nt date.” He explained that it was “not practicable” to publish a more complete record in “the usual form,” meaning as a book.
As editor of the Times and Seasons, JS “Read the Proof” of the 1 March 1842 issue. By 4 March, the papers were finished and ready to be mailed. On 8 March, JS “commenced Translating from the Book of Abraham, for the 10 No of the Times and seasons”—the issue dated 15 March. The next day, JS was still examining other content for that issue. Following several days working in the printing office, noted on 19 March that the office had printed the issue of the Times and Seasons “which contained the portion of the Book of Abraham that gave his account of Kolob, Oliblish, God siting upon his Throne The Earth other planets & many great & glorious things as revealed to Abraham through the power of the priesthood.” Neither JS nor Woodruff provided any detail regarding the printing of the third and final facsimile for the issue dated 16 May 1842, though Woodruff spent the week before and the week after at the printing office.
The precise circulation of the Times and Seasons at this time is unknown. In a diary entry in March 1842, stated that the office printed “about 500” copies. Given the population of the church at the time, it seems likely that the printers produced five hundred copies that day, rather than five hundred total. If Woodruff and his colleagues worked in the printing office six days a week (which his journal indicates was common), they could have produced many more than five hundred copies of each issue. As many as one hundred copies of the church’s newspapers were circulated to other newspaper editors throughout the country in June 1842.
anticipated that non-Mormons would react negatively to the publication of the Book of Abraham. “Here, then,” he wrote, “is another subject for the Gentile world to stumble at, and for which to persecute the Saints, not knowing that there is nothing hidden but what shall be brought to light, and nothing secret but what shall be discovered.” The immediate reception of the Book of Abraham, however, was fairly mild; the Times and Seasons reprinted several early, positive responses from other publications. Newspaper editor reprinted the first facsimile in his New York Herald, along with the text of the first installment of the Book of Abraham. Bennett began his article by questioning the provenance of the mummies and papyri and concluded with comments, which appear to be delivered tongue in cheek, on JS and his prophetic role: “While modern philosophy, which believes in nothing but what you can touch, is overspreading the Atlantic States, Joe Smith is creating a spiritual system, combined also with morals and industry, that may change the destiny of the race. . . . Joe is a mighty man of God—possessing large stores of human nature—great shrewdness, and as he has taken the management of the Mormon newspaper organ, the ‘Times and Seasons’ into his hand, we look for many revelations, and some curious ones too, pretty soon.” Bennett’s comments typify the bemusement felt by some non-Mormons regarding the Book of Abraham.
A newspaper that was somewhat sympathetic to the Latter-day Saints also published the first installment and Facsimile 1, joining a then-current wave of discussion about the Saints in the national media: “The chapter from the recently recovered Book of Abraham, and the unique cut which illustrates it . . . has occasioned us some expense,” the editors wrote. A smaller article in the New York State Mechanic gave a passing reference to the publication: “The Times and Seasons . . . has commenced the translation of a book written by Abraham, and discovered in the catecombs of Egypt!” Later responses were more critical. In July 1842, a Baptist newspaper accused JS of publishing “a blundering imitation of the history of Abraham,” which “represents the Lord as instructing Abraham to tell Sarai to lie to the Egyptians.” One author called JS’s translations “pretended,” and the Dublin University Magazine stated that the Book of Abraham was “full of the grossest blunders.”
Church members’ reaction to or expectations of the publication of the Book of Abraham were positive. recorded in his journal that “the Lord is Blessing Joseph with Power to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of God; to translate through the Urim and Thummim Ancient records & Hyeroglyphics as old as Abraham or Adam, which causes our hearts to burn within us while we behold their glorious truths opened unto us.” In a draft editorial for the Times and Seasons that was never published, JS spoke of the variety of ancient records coming forth that were of “great worth to this genration.” According to JS, these records, including the Book of Abraham, were to be published “so that the honest in heart may be cheerd & comforted and go on their way rejoi[ci]ng.— as their souls become expanded.— & their undestandig [understanding] enlightend, by a knowledg of Gods work through the fathers. in former days, as well as what He is about to do in Latter Days.” Four months later, Woodruff wrote a letter to and informed him that “the Saints abroad manifest much interest in the Book of Abraham in the T[imes] & Seasons[.]” Pratt, who was serving as editor of the church-owned Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star and head of the mission in , reprinted the Book of Abraham for his British readers with “much pleasure.” The Book of Abraham was then republished in England in 1851, as part of a pamphlet titled The Pearl of Great Price, which was canonized in 1880.
Woodruff, Journal, 25 Nov. 1836. The remainder of the entry implies Woodruff referred to the papyri and not the dictated English manuscript: “& not ownly the hieroglyphicks but also many figures that this precious treasure Contains.”
Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.
“Copied from the Journal of Anson Call,” 3–4. According to Call’s record, the reading took two hours. Given that Call’s record is not in fact a contemporaneous journal, Call may have misremembered either how long the reading took or that they read solely from the Book of Abraham. They may have also read from the manuscript of JS’s Bible revision.
Call, Anson. “Copied from the Journal of Anson Call,” 1879. CHL. MS 4783.
Elizabeth Haven, Quincy, IL, to Elizabeth Howe Bullard, Holliston, MA, 21, 28, and 30 Sept. 1839; 6–10, 13–15, and 17 Oct. 1839, Barlow Family Collection, CHL. According to Haven, JS “preached upon things of the kingdom before the foundation of the world.”
Oliver Cowdery, Kirtland, OH, to William Frye, Lebanon, IL, 22 Dec. 1835, in Cowdery, Letterbook, 74; see also the published version in LDS Messenger and Advocate, Dec. 1835, 2:234–237. In 1837, William West, citing Cowdery’s published letter and commenting on the records to be translated, stated that “a larger volume than the Bible will be required to contain them.” (West, Few Interesting Facts, 5.)
Cowdery, Oliver. Letterbook, 1833–1838. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.
Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.
West, William S. A Few Interesting Facts, Respecting the Rise Progress and Pretensions of the Mormons. No publisher, 1837.
In the 1 February 1843 issue of the Times and Seasons,John Taylor, who replaced JS as editor of the newspaper late in 1842, informed his readers that “we had the promise of Br. Joseph, to furnish us with further extracts from the Book of Abraham.” Similarly, Wilford Woodruff informed Parley P. Pratt in June 1842 that the Book of Abraham “will be continued [in the Times and Seasons] as fast as Joseph gets time to translate.” (“Notice,” Times and Seasons, 1 Feb. 1843, 4:95; Wilford Woodruff, Nauvoo, IL, to Parley P. Pratt, Liverpool, England, 16 June 1842, Parley P. Pratt, Correspondence, CHL; see also “Valedictory,” Times and Seasons, 15 Nov. 1842, 4:8.)
Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
Pratt, Parley P. Correspondence, 1842–1855. CHL. MS 897.
Woodruff spent some of his day “making up the Mails or prepairing papers for it.” On 3 March, JS wrote a letter in which he stated that the “first Number of the Times & Seasons which I have issued as Editor, comes from the press this evening.” (Woodruff, Journal, 4 Mar. 1842; JS, Nauvoo, IL, to Hiram Barney, New York City, NY, 3 Mar. 1842, in JS Letterbook 2, p. 228.)
Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.
Woodruff related to Parley P. Pratt that “many of the papers through the U.S.A want to exchange with the Mormon papers[.] our exchange list has increased to 100 weekly.” (Wilford Woodruff, Nauvoo, IL, to Parley P. Pratt, Liverpool, England, 16 June 1842, Parley P. Pratt, Correspondence, CHL.)
Pratt, Parley P. Correspondence, 1842–1855. CHL. MS 897.
The Pearl of Great Price: Being a Choice Selection from the Revelations, Translations, and Narrations of Joseph Smith, First Prophet, Seer, and Revelator to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Liverpool, England: F. D. Richards, 1851); see also t. The Pearl of Great Price joined the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants as the fourth of the four “standard works” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Pearl of Great Price: Being A Choice Selection from the Revelations, Translations, and Narrations of Joseph Smith, First Prophet, Seer, and Revelator to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Liverpool: Published by F. D. Richards, 1851.
Crawley, Peter. A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church. 3 vols. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997–2012.
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.
In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my father, I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence, and finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace; and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a high priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers, it was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundations of the earth, to the present time, even the right of the first born, on the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers, unto me.
2. I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers, concerning the seed. My fathers having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given unto them, unto the worshipping of the Gods of the heathens, utterly refused to hearken to my voice; for their hearts were set to do evil, and were wholly turned to the God of Elkenah, and the God of Libnah, and the God of Mahmackrah, and the God of Korash, and the God of Pharaoh, King of Egypt; therefore they turned their hearts to the sacrifice of the heathen in offering up their children unto their dumb idols, and hearkened not unto my voice but endeavored to take away my life by the hand of the priest of Elkenah; the priest of Elkenah was also the priest of Pharaoh.
3. Now, at this time it was the custom of the priest of Pharaoh, the King of Egypt to offer up upon the altar which was built in the land of Chaldea, for the offering unto these strange Gods, both men, wo[m]en and children. And it came to pass that the priest made an offering unto the God of Pharaoh, and also unto the God of Shagreel, even after the manner of the Egyptians. Now the God of Shagreel was the Sun. Even the thank-offering of a child did the priest of Pharaoh offer upon the altar, which stood by the hill called Potiphar’s Hill, at the head of the plain of Olishem. Now, this priest had offered upon this altar three virgins at one time, who were the daughters of Onitah, one of the Royal descent, directly from the loins of Ham. These virgins were offered up because of their virtue; they would not bow down to worship Gods of wood or of stone, therefore they were killed upon this altar, and it was done after the manner of the Egyptians.
4. And it come to pass that the priests laid violence upon me, that they might slay me, also, as they did those virgins, upon this altar; and that you might have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation at the commencement of this record. It was made after the form of a bedstead, such as was had among the Chaldeans, and it stood before the gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, & also a God like unto that of Pharaoh King of Egypt. That you may have an understanding of these Gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures, at the beginning, which manner of the figures is called by the Chaldeans Rahleenos, which signifies Hyeroglyphics.
5. And as they lifted up their hands upon me, that they might offer me up, and take away my life, behold, I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God; and the Lord hearkened and heard, and he filled me with a vision of the Almighty, and the angel of his presence stood by me, and immediately unloosed my bands, and his voice was unto me. Abram! Abram! Behold, my name is JEHOVAH, and I have heard thee, and have come down to deliver thee, and to take thee away from thy fathers house, and from all thy kin-folks, into a strange land, which thou knowest not of, and this because they have turned their hearts away from me, to worship the God of Elkenah, and the God of Libnah, & the God of Mahmackrah, & the God of Korash, and the God of Pharaoh King of Egypt; therefore I have come down to visit them, and to destroy him who hath lifted up his hand against thee, Abram, my son, to take away thy life: Behold I will lead thee by my hand, and I [p. 704]