Introduction to Book of Abraham Manuscripts, circa February–circa 15 March 1842

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Book of Abraham Manuscripts, circa February–circa 15 March 1842
After stopping work on the Book of Abraham and the related study of the Egyptian language in fall 1835, JS made several attempts to begin the translation again. In December 1835, as the in , Ohio, neared completion, JS planned to set aside one room in the attic for his “translating room.” Less than a week later, however, he and others in Kirtland organized a Hebrew school, which was set to occupy that same room, “untill another room can be prepared.” This physical displacement mirrored the larger detour taken by JS and those who had worked on the Egyptian-language project as they focused on the study of Hebrew and on other endeavors.
Yet translating the Book of Abraham remained on JS’s mind. When JS moved to in spring 1838, one member recorded that a newly completed house for JS was intended for “translating the heiroglyphics of the Egyptian mummies.” Following conflicts with other Missourians, JS’s arrest in late 1838, and his escape from prison in early 1839, JS established a new headquarters for the church in and again spoke of his desire to translate the papyri. In the October 1839 general conference, JS “related some very interesting facts which he has lately translated from the reccords which came with the Mummies.” In 1840, JS asked the in , Illinois, to “relieve him from the anxiety and trouble necessarily attendant on business transactions” 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. Although the high council agreed to JS’s request, a year later, JS still blamed pressing church business for preventing him from renewing his translation projects. At a meeting in mid-August 1841, JS welcomed the appointment of the to assume business responsibilities in Nauvoo because it would free up time “that he might attend to the business of translating.” There is no evidence before early 1842, however, that JS had translated more Book of Abraham material than what survives in the extant -era manuscripts.
In 1842, JS returned to the translation of the Book of Abraham in earnest. On 1 February 1842, three of the Twelve Apostles wrote a letter to from “Josephs translating Room,” suggesting that by then JS had a dedicated space for translating. A notice dated 21 February 1842 and published in the 1 March Times and Seasons solicited tithing funds for JS “so that his hands may be loosed and the go on, and other works be done, such as the new translation of the bible, and the record of Father Abraham published to the world.” JS officially took over the editorship of the church newspaper Times and Seasons with the ninth issue (1 March 1842). This issue included both the -era Book of Abraham material and an explanation of the Egyptian vignette published as “A Fac-simile from the Book of Abraham. No. 1,” which appears to have been first recorded in . A draft editorial, which was intended for JS’s inaugural issue but was never published, stated that JS would “contin[u]e to translate & publish” the Book of Abraham “as fast as possible till the whole is completed.” After the publication of the 1 March 1842 issue, an 8 March entry in JS’s journal noted that he “commenced Translating from the Book of Abraham, for the 10 No of the Times and seasons,” a reference to the 15 March 1842 issue. On 9 March, JS sent a letter to recent convert , telling him that he was “now very busily engaged in Translating.” JS’s journal for that day notes that he “continud the Translation of the Book of Abraham” and “continued translating & revising” in the afternoon. By mid-March 1842, JS had dictated enough material to publish the next installment, and the -era Book of Abraham material was published in the 15 March issue of the Times and Seasons. JS made no known additional attempts to translate, though some evidence indicates that he intended to continue with the effort.
Between 1835, when JS suspended his work on the Book of Abraham, and 1842, when he resumed the translation, he expanded upon or taught several new doctrines—regarding the nature of God, the Godhead, and the premortal existence of souls—that are also found in the 1842 Book of Abraham text. On 20 March 1839, for example, JS wrote an epistle to the church while he was in prison in that speaks of a “councyl of the eternal God of all other Gods before this world was.” In early 1841, he gave a discourse explaining that “Spirits are eternal.” According to JS, “At the first organization in heaven we were all present and saw the Savior chosen and appointed, and the plan of salvation made and we sanctioned it.” In another early 1841 discourse, JS preached about the Godhead, which he said he understood “according to Abraham’s record.” Despite JS’s reference to “Abraham’s record,” no known -era manuscript contained these teachings, perhaps indicating that JS had an understanding of the later portion of the Book of Abraham before he committed it to paper. These themes from the years when JS’s work on the Book of Abraham was on hiatus are all found in the -era text of the Book of Abraham.


  1. 1

    JS, Journal, 31 Dec. 1835.  

  2. 2

    JS, Journal, 4 Jan. 1836.  

  3. 3

    Swartzell, Mormonism Exposed, 25.  

    Swartzell, William. Mormonism Exposed, Being a Journal of a Residence in Missouri from the 28th of May to the 20th of August, 1838, Together with an Appendix, Containing the Revelation concerning the Golden Bible, with Numerous Extracts from the ‘Book of Covenants,’ &c., &c. Pekin, OH: By the author, 1840.

  4. 4

    For more information on this period in JS’s life, see the sixth volume of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers.  

  5. 5

    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.  

    Barlow Family Collection, 1816–1969. CHL.

  6. 6

    Memorial to Nauvoo High Council, 18 June 1840. This document mentions no specific revelations but notes that JS was to “wait upon the Lord for Such revelations as may be suited to the condition and circumstances of the church.”  

  7. 7

    Minutes, 20 June 1840.  

  8. 8

    “Conference Minutes,” Times and Seasons, 1 Sept. 1841, 2:521–522.  

    Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.

  9. 9

    Parley P. Pratt, Liverpool, England, to JS and the Quorum of the Twelve, Nauvoo, IL, 13 Mar. 1842, JS Collection, CHL.  

  10. 10

    Brigham Young, Notice to the Church, 21 Feb. 1842, in Times and Seasons, 1 Mar. 1842, 3:715.  

    Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.

  11. 11

    See Historical Introduction to Book of Abraham Manuscript and Explanation of Facsimile 1, ca. Feb. 1842 [Abraham 1:1–2:18]; and Historical Introduction to Book of Abraham and Facsimiles, 1 Mar.–16 May 1842.  

  12. 12

    Editorial, ca. 1 Mar. 1842, draft, JS Collection, CHL.  

  13. 13

    JS, Journal, 8 Mar. 1842.  

  14. 14

    JS, Nauvoo, IL, to Edward Hunter, West Nantmeal, PA, 9 and 11 Mar. 1842, JS Collection, CHL.  

  15. 15

    JS, Journal, 9 Mar. 1842. The same day, Willard Richards, who acted as scribe for JS, told his brother that he was “writing the translation of the Book of Abraham” that day. (Willard Richards, Nauvoo, IL, to Levi Richards, Preston, England, 7, 9, 15, 16, and 25 Mar. 1842, in “Richards Family Letters 1840–1849,” [123].)  

    “Richards Family Letters 1840–1849.” Typescript. Richards Family Papers, 1965. CHL.

  16. 16

    In a proclamation to church members in Nauvoo, Brigham Young, serving as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, urged the Latter-day Saints to take up a collection so that JS could continue “the History of the Church and the translations which he is anxious should be in the hands of the brethren as speedily as possible.” In the 1 February 1843 issue of the Times and Seasons, John Taylor, who replaced JS as editor of the newspaper, 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.” (“Proclamation to the Saints in Nauvoo,” Wasp, 14 Jan. 1843, [3]; “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.)  

    The Wasp. Nauvoo, IL. Apr. 1842–Apr. 1843.

    Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.

    Pratt, Parley P. Correspondence, 1842–1855. CHL. MS 897.

  17. 17

    Letter to the Church and Edward Partridge, 20 Mar. 1839. Later that year, JS taught that “the father called all spirits before him at the creation of Man & organized them.” This doctrine of premortal existence is found in the March 1842 Book of Abraham manuscript. (Discourse, between ca. 26 June and ca. 4 Aug. 1839–A; Book of Abraham Manuscript, 8–ca. 15 Mar. 1842 [Abraham 3:18–26].)  

  18. 18

    Accounts of Meeting and Discourse, 5 Jan. 1841.  

  19. 19

    JS, Discourse, [9 Mar. 1841], JS Collection, CHL.  

  20. 20

    See Book of Abraham Manuscript, 8–ca. 15 Mar. 1842 [Abraham 3:18–26]; and Book of Abraham and Facsimiles, 1 Mar.–16 May 1842 [Abraham 3:27–5:21].