In March 1842 JS began publishing serial installments of the Book of Abraham—along with illustrations, known as facsimiles, copied from Egyptian papyri he acquired in 1835—in the periodical Times and Seasons. The representative sample selected for inclusion in this volume is taken from the second installment, printed in the 15 March 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons, which included a printed facsimile of one of the Egyptian texts.
In July 1835 traveling exhibitor arrived in , Ohio, with a collection of Egyptian antiquities, including four mummies and an assortment of papyri inscribed with hieroglyphic and hieratic characters and illustrations, known as vignettes. JS identified some of the writings as accounts of the biblical patriarchs Abraham and Joseph, and he and other investors purchased the collection for $2,400. Between July and late November 1835, JS produced manuscripts that represented a portion of what became known as the “Book of Abraham.” Though news of JS’s translation quickly spread through the church and the local community, only a select few of JS’s associates appear to have had firsthand knowledge of the Abraham text in 1835. Church leaders evidently planned to publish some of the Egyptian-related manuscripts in 1837, but those plans were aborted presumably when JS and other Latter-day Saints were forced to leave Kirtland for in 1838.
In late 1841 and early 1842, JS took steps that enabled him to resume his translation efforts and publish portions of the Book of Abraham in the Times and Seasons. In August 1841 JS delegated responsibilities associated with the “business of the church” to the in order to “relieve him so that he might attend to the business of translating.” In February 1842 he assumed editorship of the Times and Seasons and resumed translating portions of the Egyptian papyri in earnest. , who had been recently appointed to work alongside JS and in the , noted JS’s renewed translation efforts in a 19 February journal entry: “The Lord is Blessing Joseph with Power to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of God; to translate through the Ancient records & Hyeroglyphics as old as Abraham or Adam.” In a circa 1 March 1842 unpublished draft of an editorial for the newspaper, JS conveyed his intention to publish serial excerpts from his translation of the Bible and the Book of Abraham, stating that he would “contin[u]e to translate & publish as fast as possible till the whole is completed.” The first installment of the Book of Abraham was published in the 1 March 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons and included thirteen verses. That installment was derived from the manuscripts originally produced in between July and November 1835.
Entries in JS’s journal indicate that he continued to translate and produce new content from the Egyptian papyri following the 1 March installment of the Book of Abraham. An 8 March entry states that he “Commenced Translating from the Book of Abraham, for the 10 No of the Times and seasons,” a reference to the upcoming 15 March issue. On the morning of 9 March, JS conducted church business and edited some content for the newspaper and then “continu[e]d the Translation of the Book of Abraham” in the afternoon. After taking a break to attend to other church business, he “continued translating & revising” later that day.
JS published nineteen more verses of the Book of Abraham in the 15 March 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons. These verses were likely derived from a manuscript that JS dictated the previous week. In his journal, characterized this installment as “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.”
In addition to publishing the verses from the Book of Abraham, the 15 March issue of the Times and Seasons included a printed facsimile of an Egyptian hypocephalus and an accompanying explanation. The hypocephalus from which the facsimile was copied is no longer extant. It appears that a portion of the hypocephalus was damaged or missing and that JS, church member , or someone else involved in the production of the facsimile used figures and hieratic characters depicted on other portions of the papyri to fill in the gaps. In late February 1842 JS commissioned Hedlock to carve woodcuts of the hypocephalus and two vignettes depicted on the papyri; the woodcuts were used to create the dies for the metal printing plates from which the three illustrations were printed. At least some portions of the explanation appear to be derived from earlier translation efforts. The hypocephalus and its attending explanation were eventually inserted as a gatefold between pages 720 and 721 in the 15 March issue of the Times and Seasons. According to , the 15 March issue was printed on 19 March, and it was presumably sent to subscribers and made available for sale in , Illinois, sometime within the next few days.
Following the publication of the Book of Abraham in the Times and Seasons, several people made observations about, brought attention to, or reprinted portions of the work. On the day the 15 March 1842 issue was printed, , who had been intimately involved in the publication, noted in his journal, “The truths of the Book of Abraham are truly edifying great & glorious which are among the rich treasures that are revealed unto us in the last days.” Three months later he wrote a letter to fellow apostle , informing him that “the Saints abroad manifest much interest in the Book of Abraham in the T[imes] & Seasons.” Pratt, who was head of the mission in and editor of the church-owned Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, reprinted the Book of Abraham for his British readers with “much pleasure.”
Wider press coverage of the publication of the Book of Abraham ranged in tone from fascination to derision. On 2 April the New-York Tribune briefly acknowledged that “the Mormons have found a new book called the Book of Abraham” and that JS was translating it. On 3 April the New-York Herald republished the first installment of the book and two days later highlighted the publication of “another slice of the ‘Book of Abraham,’ embracing a synopsis of his geology and astronomy, illustrated with a curious map of the Mormon Solar System”—a reference to the second portion printed in the Times and Seasons. The same month, the Dollar Weekly Bostonian reproduced the first installment of the Book of Abraham; while acknowledging that reproducing the facsimile found in the first installment came at “some expense,” the editor asserted, “We care not for that so long as we please our patrons.” In July the Baptist paper Witness briefly acknowledged the content of the 15 March issue of the Times and Seasons and JS’s “blundering imitation of the history of Abraham.”
In 1851 included the Book of Abraham along with other revelatory texts JS produced in a collection titled The Pearl of Great Price, a revised version of which was canonized as church scripture in 1880.
William W. Phelps, Kirtland, OH, to Sally Waterman Phelps, Liberty, MO, 20 July 1835, in Historical Department, Journal History of the Church, 20 July 1835; Lyman, Journal, 11 July 1835; “Another Humbug,” Cleveland Whig, 5 Aug. 1835, . JS did not translate in the conventional sense of the word. For more on JS’s use of the word translation as it applied to various projects, see “Joseph Smith Documents Dating through June 1831”; and “Joseph Smith as Revelator and Translator.”
Historical Department. Journal History of the Church, 1896–. CHL. CR 100 137.
Minute Book 1, 5 Nov. 1837. JS may have translated a portion of the Egyptian papyri in 1839. In fall 1839 church member Elizabeth Haven reported that during the October conference JS “related some very interesting facts which he has lately translated from the reccords which came with the Mummies.” (Elizabeth Haven, Quincy, IL, to Elizabeth Howe Bullard, Holliston, MA, 21, 28, and 30 Sept. 1839; 6–9 Oct. 1839, Barlow Family Collection, 1816–1969, CHL.)
Building a new community and attending to the constant press of ecclesiastical and business responsibilities appear to have hindered JS’s translation work before that time. In June 1840 JS asked the Nauvoo, Illinois, high council to relieve him from such obligations so that he could “devote himself exclusively to those things which relate to Spiritualities of the church and commence the work of translating the ejyptian Records— the Bible,” and other revelations, but there is no evidence that he returned to translating at that time. (Memorial to Nauvoo High Council, 18 June 1840.)
Only a single leaf of this manuscript is apparently extant. The leaf is numbered 7 and 8 on the recto and verso sides, respectively, and it begins and ends in incomplete sentences. These textual aspects of the leaf indicate that it was likely originally part of a larger manuscript. (Book of Abraham Manuscript, 8–ca. 15 Mar. 1842 [Abraham 3:18–26].)
A hypocephalus is a circular object made of papyrus, linen, wood, clay, or metal that Egyptians traditionally placed beneath the head of a deceased person before interment. (See Rhodes, “Joseph Smith Hypocephalus,” 1; Ritner, Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri, 263; and Gee, “Towards an Interpretation of Hypocephali,” 332–334.)
Rhodes, Michael D. The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus . . . Seventeen Years Later. FARMS Preliminary Reports. Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1994.
Ritner, Robert K. The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition, P. JS 1–4 and the Hypocephalus of Sheshonq. Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2011.
Gee, John. “Towards an Interpretation of Hypocephali.” In Mélanges offerts à Edith Varga: “Le lotus qui sort de terre,” edited by Hedvig Györy, 325–334. Budapest: Musée Hongrois des Beaux- Arts, 2001.
“The Book of Abraham,” Millennial Star, July 1842, 3:33–36 [Abraham 1:1–2:18]; “The Book of Abraham,” Millennial Star, Aug. 1842, 3:49–53 [Abraham 2:19–5:21]; [Parley P. Pratt], Editorial, Millennial Star, July 1842, 3:46.
“Mormon Blasphemy,” Witness (Pittsburgh, PA), July 1842, 34. Samuel Williams, the editor and publisher of the Witness, published an inflammatory tract titled Mormonism Exposed several weeks later. (“Mormonism Exposed,” Iron City, and Pittsburgh Weekly Chronicle, 28 May 1842, ; 4 June 1842, –; 11 June 1842, –.)
The Witness. Pittsburgh. 1842.
Iron City, and Pittsburgh Weekly Chronicle. Pittsburgh. 1841–1845.
Pearl of Great Price, 1851 ed., 18–29; Pearl of Great Price, 1878 ed., 55; “Fiftieth Semi-annual Conference,” Deseret News (Salt Lake City), 13 Oct. 1880, 588; Crawley, Descriptive Bibliography, 2:234–238.
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: F. D. Richards, 1851.
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. Salt Lake City: Latter-day Saints’ Printing and Publishing Establishment, 1878.
Deseret News. Salt Lake City. 1850–.
Crawley, Peter. A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church. 3 vols. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997–2012.
A FAC-SIMILE FROM THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM, NO. 2.
[facsimile of hypocephalus]
Explanation of the above Cut.
Fig. 1. Kolob, signifying the first creation, nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God. First in government, the last pertaining to the measurement of time. The measurement according to the celestial time; which, celestial time, signifies one day to a cubit. One day, in Kolob, is equal to a thousand years, according to the measurement of this earth, which is called by the Egyptians Jah-oh-eh.
Fig. 2. Stands next to Kolob, called by the Egyptians Oliblish, which is the next grand governing creation, near to the celestial or the place where God resides; holding the key of power also, pertaining to other planets; as revealed from God to Abraham, as he offered sacrifice upon an altar, which he had built unto the Lord.
Fig. 3. Is made to represent God, sitting upon his throne, clothed with power and authority; with a crown of eternal light upon his head; representing, also, the grand Key words of the Holy Priesthood, as revealed to Adam in the Garden of Eden, as also to Seth, Noah, Melchisedek, Abraham and all to whom the Priesthood was revealed.
Fig. 4. Answers to the Hebrew word Raukeeyang, signifying expanse, or the firmament of the heavens: also, a numerical figure, in Egyptian, signifying one thousand; answering to the measuring of the time of Oliblish, which is equal with Kolob in its revolution and in its measuring of time.
Fig. 5, Is called in Egyptian Enish-go-on-dosh; that is one of the governing planets also; and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is the grand Key, or in other words, the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars, as also Floeese or the Moon, the earth and the Sun in their annual revolutions. This planet receives its power through the medium of Kli-flos-is-es, or Hah-ko-kau-beam, the stars represented by numbers 22, and 23, receiving light from the revolutions of Kolob.
Fig. 6, Represents this earth in its four quarters.
Fig. 7, Represents God sitting upon his throne, revealing, through the heavens, the grand Key words of the Priesthood; as, also, the sign of the Holy Ghost unto Abraham, in the form of a dove.
Fig. 8, Contains writing that cannot be revealed unto the world; but is to be had in the Holy Temple of God.
Fig. 9, Ought not to be revealed at the present time.
Fig. 10, Also.
Fig. 11, Also.—If the world can find out these numbers, So let it be, Amen.
Figures 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 21, will be given in the own due time of the Lord.
The above translation is given as far as we have any right to give, at the present time. [verso blank]
Neither the manuscript of this explanation nor the printed facsimile has “20.” The manuscript includes “22” here. The facsimile has two figures labeled with “22” and one figure labeled “23,” which are referenced in the explanation of figure 5. (See Explanation of Facsimile 2, ca. 15 Mar. 1842.)