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Selections from the Book of Moses

An extract from the translation of the Bible as revealed to Joseph Smith the Prophet, June 1830 - February 1831

An Overview of the Book of Moses

The Book of Moses consists of Joseph Smith's inspired revision or "translation" of part of the book of Genesis-actually Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 6:13. For many years Joseph's inspired revision of the Bible was called "the Inspired Version," but it is now more properly named the "Joseph Smith Translation" (abbreviated JST). It is suggested that the reader review the supplemental article in Learning to Love the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith's Inspired Revision of the Bible. This historical connection between the Pearl of Great Price and the JST has eluded most members of the Church since the Book of Moses has been published by the Church separately in the Pearl of Great Price, and since the Church is not the publisher of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. Doctor Robert J. Matthews has observed: "The original manuscript of Joseph Smith's translation leaves no doubt on the matter . . . the two are the same" (Studies in Scripture, Volume Two, The Pearl of Great Price, 25). The Book of Moses is 250 verses longer than the corresponding King James account.

At this point it is important to pause and note an important insight into what is meant by the term "translation" and what the process was. When the prophet Joseph Smith "translated" the Bible, he was not limited to what was found on the working page in front of him, whether that page was a sheet from the King James Version or a handwritten draft of his own early revision. The text seems to have been a "starting point," but the spirit of revelation was always an additional source of information. In the case of the Bible translation, the manuscript source was the King James Version. This text suggested certain ideas, but the spirit apparently suggested many enlargements, backgrounds, and additional concepts not found on the page. Thus the term "translation," when referring to Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible, differs from that normally used when one thinks of translating languages. To a prophet, a revelation is a more vital and dependable source than a written text. This revelationary, progressive, open-ended process that was used in translating the Bible may also give us an instructive clue in understanding Joseph Smith's "translation" of the Egyptian papyrus from whence came the Book of Abraham. It may not have been a literal translation at all, and the Book of Abraham may go far beyond what was actually written on the papyrus.

What is now called the Book of Moses originally consisted of three separate revelations. The first is dated June 1830. The original manuscript is in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. It was recorded at the beginning of the process of Joseph's inspired revision of the Bible at Harmony, Pennsylvania, and in the JST manuscript it was originally given the title "A Revelation given to Joseph the Revelator." This is the same information now published as Moses chapter 1.

The second revelation is also taken from the JST manuscript where it is entitled: "A Revelation given to the Elders of the Church of Christ on the first Book of Moses, Chapter First." This was also in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. This revelation covers Moses 2, 3, and 4. There is no date given on this part of the manuscript, but from other evidences, it is determined that it was received and recorded partly in Harmony, Pennsylvania, and partly in Fayette, New York, between June and October 1830.

The third portion was also received in the process of making the JST and in that manuscript is titled: "A Revelation concerning Adam after he had been driven out of the Garden of Eden." The content actually goes considerably beyond what is suggested in the title, for it not only deals with Adam but carries the biblical story from Adam down to Noah, with an especially long section about Enoch. This material makes up what is now Moses 5:1 to 8:12. Several dates are given in the manuscript itself for these materials, and also several scribes were involved in recording them. While the details of scribes and dates of these materials are not overridingly important, the dates are included in the Book of Moses, and they will be summarized here as written by Brother Robert J. Matthews:

The material comprising what we now call Moses 1:1 [through] 5:42 was recorded by Oliver Cowdery between June 1830 and October 21, 1830, at Fayette, New York. In October, Oliver Cowdery left New York on a mission to Ohio and Missouri (see D&C 32). Significantly, at this point in the manuscript the handwriting changes from that of Oliver Cowdery to that of John Whitmer. Whitmer recorded a few verses on 21 October 1830 (comprising what we now call Moses 5:43-51) and some additional material on 30 November 1830 (comprising what is now Moses 5:52 [through] 6:18). After John Whitmer had served as scribe for less than two months, he left for a short while because of a personal matter. Joseph Smith, anxious that the work continue as rapidly as possible, enlisted the help of his wife, Emma, who had already been called to act as scribe when necessary (D&C 25:6). She penned Moses 6:19-52. John Whitmer returned to his duties, and on 1 December 1830 he recorded what is now Moses 6:19 [through] 7:1. This also was done at Fayette, New York. At this time John Whitmer, having been previously called, left New York to engage in a mission to the Kirtland, Ohio area.

At this point Sidney Rigdon came into the picture. [It should be noted that much of the Moses material was already recorded before Sidney Rigdon entered the picture. He was neither the genius for, nor the recorder for, the early part of the Bible translation.] Brother Rigdon had joined the Church in Ohio a few weeks earlier (on 24 November 1830) and had arrived in Fayette, New York, on or about 7 December 1830. Soon after his arrival in Fayette he was appointed by revelation to be a scribe for the prophet Joseph (D&C 35:19-20). Sometime after Sidney's arrival and before the end of December, in connection with the translation of the Bible, the prophet Joseph received an extended revelation about Enoch. The manuscript shows that this revelation was originally recorded in the handwriting of Sidney Rigdon. It is the material now printed as Moses chapter 7 and is the first known contact that Sidney Rigdon had with Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible. The translation was then interrupted long enough for Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to move their families to Kirtland, Ohio. As soon as they were settled, they began again to work on the new translation, completing what would become the book of Moses in February 1831.

The two continued to work on Genesis for another three months, ending their efforts in Genesis 24 because of instruction from the Lord. On March 7, 1831, the Savior commanded Joseph Smith to concentrate his efforts, for a time, on the New Testament (D&C 45:60).

The document the Prophet and his scribes had produced up to that point is now called Old Testament 1 (OT1). The Prophet then enlisted John Whitmer to make a backup copy of the whole. He completed that task on April 5, 1831. This copy is known today as Old Testament 2 (OT2). Though initially a backup, OT2 became the primary document on which Joseph Smith's scribes took his dictations and eventually finished his work on the Old Testament. Over the next two years, he edited OT2, trying to get the exact wording for the spiritual impressions he felt. This edited document became the primary source for our current book of Moses.

There is an interesting historical fluke regarding the translation of the Bible at this point. When Oliver Cowdery returned from the Lamanite mission in 1831, Joseph again enlisted his help on the translation. The Prophet dictated a number of changes, which Oliver recorded on OT1. Joseph himself made six additional changes to that text. All of these, however, were never transferred to OT2. Because of that, they were overlooked by later editors and thus never became part of the book of Moses (Jackson, Kent P., The Book of Moses and the Joseph Smith Translation Manuscripts. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005], 2).

The amount of editing, emending, and correcting to OT2 reveals the hard work undertaken by the Prophet and his scribes as they sought to make a smooth-flowing text that reflected the whisperings of the Spirit. Since nearly all the corrections were made by Sidney Rigdon, it would appear that OT2 came into its final state by July 2, 1833, when Sidney ceased to work as the Prophet's scribe.

Though Joseph Smith wanted to publish his new rendition of the Bible, circumstances continually hindered his efforts. A number of people, however, took interest in the work, and at least two, John Whitmer and Hyrum Page, made personal copies of some parts of what would become the book of Moses. The first glimpse that most of the saints received of portions of the future book, however, came when they were printed in some of the church's early newspapers (Ibid., 6-7).

It was Franklin D. Richards who brought the largest portions of Joseph Smith's work to the attention of church members, publishing them in Great Britain. As part of his Pearl of Great Price, he printed two excerpts drawn primarily from a copy or copies of OT1. The first, titled "Extracts from the Prophecy of Enoch," included Moses 6:43 through 7:69. The second, titled in part "The words of God, which he spake unto Moses" included material from Moses 1 through 4 and some of chapters 5 and 8. Therefore, the saints' first exposure to the book did not contain Joseph Smith's latest revisions. Even so, the flaws did not hinder the genuine work of the Spirit or the enthusiasm felt by the thousands of saints who read and rejoiced over the material.

By 1878, as noted earlier, church leaders decided to make an American edition of the Pearl of Great Price. They selected Orson Pratt to do the work. To him goes credit for creating the book of Moses as such. That he did not copy the material published by Elder Richards suggests he knew that his colleague did not use the latest drafts of Joseph Smith's work. Having received a copy of the Inspired Version of the Holy Bible, produced by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, he felt that it was based on a more accurate and complete draft and therefore copied it into the new edition of the Pearl. He was correct. The RLDS editors had used the Prophet's latest changes of OT2 and were very careful, if not perfect, in making their copy.

The RLDS 1869 published text has remained the basis of all editions of the Pearl since Orson Pratt first chose it, though some editorial changes have been made to the book of Moses since then. Thus, OT2 has served the Church well. In recent years, however, with the cooperation of the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), LDS scholars have gained access to the original documents once possessed by Joseph Smith. The most prominent of these scholars are Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews. The product of their efforts is Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts (Provo, Utah: The Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004). This access has allowed these scholars to make careful comparisons and corrections.

The Church has been blessed by Orson Pratt's work in producing the book of Moses almost as it stands today. Though a few editorial changes have been made, his efforts gave church members their first continuous reading of material so important to God that he restored it by direct revelation.

In speaking of the persecution of the infant Church of Christ, the prophet Joseph expressed his gratitude for the first of the three revelations which constitute the Book of Moses:

Amid all the trials and tribulations we had to wade through, the Lord, who well knew our infantile and delicate situation, vouchsafed for us a supply of strength, and granted us "line upon line of knowledge-here a little and there a little," of which the following was a precious morsel (HC,1:98).

And it is a "precious morsel" indeed! It is the missing introduction not only to Genesis, but to the entire Bible. It is the key to a correct understanding of the scriptural accounts of Earth's creation, in that it makes plain by whom, and by what power, and for what purpose it was organized. Further, it establishes the now-disputed reality of Satan and exposes his on-going efforts to supplant Christ through his lies and deceptions. It also reveals the spiritual greatness of Moses and verifies the historicity of his divine appointment to "deliver my people from bondage, even Israel my chosen" (Moses 1:26). But most importantly, it provides a firm foundation of doctrine concerning the true character of God and the grand objective of his unending labors vis-a-vis mankind not only on this planet but on countless other worlds as well. In doing so, it topples the confining wall of scientific and religious ignorance surrounding man's origin and reveals him to be a far-ranging citizen of the cosmos.

The Book of Moses has contributed great doctrinal principles that are of inestimable value to members of the Church. These include doctrines concerning the creation of the earth and the lives of Adam, Cain, Satan, Enoch, and Noah. This material, especially as pertaining to Enoch, constitutes some of the most significant evidence of Joseph Smith's divine calling as a prophet. There are today apocryphal and archaeological evidences that tend to corroborate what Joseph Smith has given us about Enoch. These were not available in Joseph Smith's day.

We have all noticed that the Book of Moses ends rather abruptly, and many have wondered why Elder Orson Pratt did not include more, especially to round out the story of Noah and the Flood. The answer is simple: What he published is what he had.

One additional point seems pertinent. In our discussion of the Joseph Smith Translation (again, see the supplemental article in Learning to Love the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith's Inspired Revision of the Bible, we made the point that, generally speaking, it does not appear that we should regard the material in the JST as a "correction" of the scripture in the sense of restoring the text to its original autograph manuscript (the manuscript actually written by the hand of the original author) form. Rather, it should be understood to contain additional revelations, alternate readings, prophetic commentary or midrash, harmonizations, clarifications, as well as corrections to the original. It seems likely that in the case of the Book of Moses, Joseph felt that the Lord was restoring the writings of the Prophet Moses to their original form-that is, he was correcting the first six chapters of the book of Genesis. Or, at least, he was revealing to us in pure form a separate document actually written by Moses.

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