THE EGYPTIAN CONTEXT* * * * * * * *
air of mystery and romance that has always surrounded things Egyptian has never
failed to attract swarms of crackpots, cultists, half-baked
scholars, self-certified experts, and out-and-out charlatans.
"New Look at the Pearl of Great Price" (February
1968): 15* * * * * * * *
Granted its mind-expanding scope, is the Egyptian experience
at all relevant to the modern world? The answer is no, and neither is Mormonism
relevant to the distracted modern world, which has no concern with the things
of the eternities and will soon be forgotten.
Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 14* * * * * * * *
Life is too short to devote years of study to learning that
what went on with the ancients was just more of the same. It is too short to
let us live both our lives and theirs from day to day unless they have something to add to the story,
something we do not have, something quite wonderful and unexpected. Of all
people the Egyptians are most likely to supply us with such matter.
Abraham in Egypt, ix-x* * * * * * * *
The great attraction of Egypt was at all times the exciting
combination of religious and scientific thinking, mantic and sophic,
intuitive and intellectual, the ancient and the progressive. The solid and
visible achievements of the ancient Egyptians bade the observer take their
message seriously, as it does us today. The Egyptians, Theophrastus observed,
are, on the one hand, the most rationally minded of all people, and yet they
live in an ambiance submerged in ancient and recondite religious lore. This
tradition is deeply religious and at the same time persistently
intellectual—the perfect example, one would say today, of the "bicameral"
Abraham in Egypt, 107* * * * * * * *
There is no exclusive equation between Ham and Pharaoh, or
between Ham and Egyptians, or between the Egyptians and the blacks, or between
any of the above and any particular curse. What was denied was recognition of
patriarchal right to the priesthood made by a claim of matriarchal succession.
Abraham in Egypt, 219-20
JOSEPH SMITH'S ROLE* * * * * * * *
the Kirtland Egyptian Papers is a small cloth-bound book inscribed "W. W.
Phelps, Diary Vc. 1835," containing original renderings of the Bible, of
which the Church Historian writes: "These passages of Scriptures from the
Bible do not appear to have any connection with the Inspired Revision by the
Prophet Joseph Smith. This is no doubt the result of research and study done by
Wm. W. Phelps." And why not? Joseph Smith encouraged others to obtain all
the gifts that God has bestowed on man.
"The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers," 393* * * * * * * *
The Mormons are deeply concerned only with what they accept
as scripture. Non-Mormons, raised in the tradition of the infallible Bible, are
unable to conceive of a man's being a prophet and at the same time a fallible
mortal. They persist in thinking . . . that the discovery of any slightest flaw
in Joseph Smith's character of his work must necessarily bring the whole
structure of Mormonism down in ruins.
isn't that way at all. All men are subject to vanity, said Joseph Smith, and
all must be allowed a generous margin of error to be themselves. But there
are points on which no such freedom is allowed. There are writings
that the Mormons accept as inspired scriptures, and these include the
explanation to the facsimiles in the book of Abraham.
"New Look at the Pearl of Great Price" (May 1970):
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE* * * * * * * *
book that concerns us was purposely called "The Pearl of Great Price,"
that term being both in scripture and apocrypha the designation of a treasure
that is both hidden and inexhaustible. Being hidden, it must be searched out
and dug up—brought out of the depths by the strenuous and determined
efforts of whoever would possess it. Being inexhaustibly vast, it can never
cease to be a source of new wonders to the inquiring mind.
the past this treasure has been treated more or less like a convenient bit of
pocket money, a ready fund of occasional texts to be dipped into for
self-serving commentaries. That is not the purpose of the scriptures, which is
to tell us what we do not know and often do not want to know.
Pearl of Great Price is unique among scriptures in that its message is
available only to that extent to which God's children choose to make it so, but
at the same time it is capable of conveying knowledge of undreamed of scope and
"New Look at the Pearl of Great Price" (May 1970):
94* * * * * * * *
The recent flowering of comparative studies that look into
long neglected or newly discovered apocryphal writings makes it clear that the
concept of recurrent dispensations of light and darkness, restoration and
apostasy, is valid for every age of recorded history. Nowhere is the pattern
set forth more clearly than in the epic sweep of the Pearl of Great Price.
the perennial pattern presented there is not limited to Jewish and Christian
traditions, but extends to the oldest ritual literature—epic and
dramatic—of the human race. Chapter one of our book of Moses is as much
an introduction to world literature in general as to our conventional
"A Strange Thing in the Land," CWHN 2:155* * * * * * * *
Find the author of the book of Moses and you have found the
author of the Book of Mormon. All other candidates may withdraw. And yet, what
a difference! The one is a collection of the writings of pious sectaries in the
wilderness—the Rekhabite motif resounds on almost every page: chronicles
and annals, letters and sermons, commentaries, hymns and meditations; the
other, the voice of Moses booming down the corridors of time as he transmits to
us the words that come down to him from the beginning—he sings Enoch's
songs, and Noah's and Adam's, to which Abraham's is added in another book.
"To Open the Last Dispensation," 4* * * * * * * *
The book of Enoch was given to the Saints as a bonus for
their willingness to accept the Book of Mormon and as a reward for their
sustained and lively interest in all scriptures, including the lost books. They
were searchers, engaging in eager speculation . . . , ever seeking like Adam
and Abraham, for "greater [light and] knowledge" (Abraham 1:2).
we have been told that if we stop seeking we shall not only find no more but
lose the treasures we already have. That is why it is not only advisable but
urgent that we begin at last to pay attention to the astonishing outpouring of
ancient writings which is the peculiar blessing of our generation. Among these
writings the first peculiar blessing of our generation. Among these writings
the first and most important is the book of Enoch.
"A Strange Thing in the Land," CWHN
THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM* * * * * * * *
real question is not whether Joseph Smith knew Egyptian—no one has
claimed that he did; or whether the book of Abraham is translated from the Book
of Breathings—that, by universal admission, is impossible; or whether
Joseph Smith was interested in producing an Egyptian grammar—he
emphatically says that he was; or that the Alphabet and Grammar came to
nothing—the men of Kirtland found it useless almost immediately and
forgot it; or who is an Egyptologist and who is not—no one challenges
their translations; but the true significance of the old texts and pictures
remains a mystery to the expert and layman alike. . . . It is not Joseph Smith
but the book of Abraham that is on trial.
"Judging and Prejudging the Book of Abraham," 244 * * * * * * * *
The two rules to follow. . . are (1) to ask the right
questions, and (2) to keep looking. What is the one question which the book of
Abraham confronts us with before all others? Simply this: Is it a true history?
I believe that it is and have always believed it. I am biased. Other people
believe that it is not and have always believed that. They have never been able
to take the question seriously, let alone look for an answer. So there is a
deadlock. We can stop there.
if either side from idle curiosity should feel inclined to step away from
square one, the Big Question must be broken up into little questions that are
easier to handle.
"The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham," 51* * * * * * * *
So far no one has asked how [Joseph] Smith came to produce a
history of Abraham which can be matched at every point from a wealth of ancient
sources—Jewish and Christian apocrypha, Talmud, Mishna, even Gnostic,
Hasidic and Cabbalistic writings, Moslem commentators, sectaries of the desert
such as Mandaeans and Qumran people, even the church Fathers and Classical
"Phase One," 105* * * * * * * *
Today scholars are becoming aware of an elaborately
interlacing mesh of ancient writings from various far-flung centers of culture
and religion, which were formerly thought to be completely independent and
disconnected productions. These support and explain each other in strange and
surprising ways, and right in the center of the great complex is the Book of
"What Is 'The Book of Breathings'?" 187* * * * * * * *
As in a hall of mirrors, the Book of Breathings seems to be
reflected in an endless procession of documents that fade out of sight in
either direction. Behind it lie the Egyptian funerary and temple texts that go
back to the beginning, and after it comes an equally impressive succession of
early Christian and Jewish writings that move on down through the patristic
literature to our own day.
Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 255* * * * * * * *
What happens to Abraham and what he does is of enduring
effect in the history of the whole human race, past, present, and future. He is
one of those key figures in whom all the events of the past are brought into
focus as by a burning-glass and whose actions are in turn projected into the
future as an ever-expanding image.
we see here is a moment of immeasurable significance in the history of the
race. The messenger-bird is there to represent the Ruler of All. The crocodile
is no less necessary to represent the ancient opposition in all things. The
lion is (in early Jewish and Christian parlance) the relentless force that
consumes all material things. The lotus is the symbol of the righteous man's
pilgrimage through a hostile and dangerous world. Everything has a meaning, and
the pillars and expanse of heaven remove the whole story from this transient
world to its proper relationship in the eternal plan of things.
"New Look at the Pearl of Great Price" (October
1969): 88* * * * * * * *
To begin with, Abraham was in the world, a wicked world very
much like our own. From childhood to the grave, he was a stranger in his
society because he insisted on living by the principles of the gospel and
preaching them to others wherever he went, even if it meant getting into
trouble. Those principles, teachings, covenants, ordinances, and promises were
alien to the world, which was bitterly hostile to them. So Abraham's whole
life, as is often stated, was a series of trials or tests, and by example and
precept he tells us how to come through victorious.
object? Not to conquer or impress but to bless all with whom he comes into
contact, ultimately shedding the blessing that God gave to him upon the whole
human race. For that he is first of all the magnanimous, the great-hearted, the
ever-hospitable Abraham, who always does the fair and compassionate thing no
matter how badly others may behave toward him. He is the friend of God because
he is the friend of man, pleading on his knees for Sodom and Gomorrah. That is
the moral pattern for all men to follow.
by "doing the works of Abraham" can we hope to establish a better
order of things on the earth, that order of Zion lost since the days of Noah.
This takes courage, tact, unfailing faith, and the constant aid of divine
revelation. It entails more than human contrivance or human
wisdom—Abraham must acquire ever more and more knowledge. The guiding
principle is intelligence, an awareness of things as they are: the physical
world, the structure and nature of the cosmos, and the spiritual realities that
are behind everything. For Abraham, everything is a prelude to what lies
Abraham in Egypt, 249* * * * * * * *
We must do the works of Abraham. And then we are told
specifically in the Doctrine and Covenants that that means sacrificing, if
necessary, your own life. Abraham was willing to do that, and everyone at some
time or another will have the opportunity to show that he'd be willing to do
"The Faith of an Observer," 28