A new book related to the Pearl of Great Price has just been published by two well-known LDS scholars, Dr. Terryl Givens and Dr. Brian Hauglid, both currently associated with the Maxwell Institute at BYU. The book is The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism's Most Controversial Scripture (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2019). Givens, one of my favorite LDS thinkers and writers, is noted for intelligent treatments of Latter-day Saint scripture and life in works such as The God Who Weeps and By the Hand of Mormon, etc. Hauglid has years of experience in dealing with the Book of Abraham in particular and is one of the co-editors of the high-profile Book of Abraham volume from the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Unfortunately, I and John Gee have independently felt compelled to point out some serious gaps and biases in that volume, some of which appear to have been imported into The Pearl of Greatest Price (my review and John Gee's review are both at The Interpreter, and I provide some additional information in an article for Meridian Magazine). The cover of The Pearl of Greatest Price indicates it is by Terryl Givens “with Brian Hauglid,” perhaps indicating that Hauglid’s contribution is secondary or perhaps largely focused on the Book of Abraham material.

The Pearl of Greatest Price explores the history and impact upon the Church for each of the several parts of the Pearl of Great Price, namely, the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, the History of Joseph Smith, and the Articles of Faith. In general, these are presented with scholarly attention to detail, and with a broad awareness of how members and critics have responded to the content and occasionally misunderstandings about the content of these work. That alone makes the book a worthwhile read.

I offer praise for most of this work, in spite of occasional disagreement, particularly a few aspects of  the treatment of the Book of Abraham.

I particularly enjoyed the insights into how the Articles of Faith responded to the environment of persecution the Church faced and yet took strong stands on some issues that would further ruffle feathers of our religious critics, while avoiding a number of more sensitive issues.

The treatment of Joseph Smith’s history was also thorough and insightful. Givens plausibly suggests that Joseph initially saw his sacred experience as a very personal, private experience, but gradually saw the need to let others know some of what happened, in part at least to correct misinformation that his enemies were spreading about him. There is a tendency for some to interpret his various accounts as if Joseph were making the story up and simply adding grander embellishments over time. Here it might have been helpful to point to some of the early evidence showing that Joseph had shared key parts of his First Vision account that did not make it into his public written accounts until years later. There is no mention of an important work, Richard L. Anderson's "Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision Through Reminiscences," BYU Studies 9/3 (1969): 1-27, or a variety of other resources on the issue. If elements from the later versions of Joseph's First Vision account were already known to some others years before they were put into print for the public, then skeptical hostile arguments about Joseph fabricating new embellishments to his story over time become less tenable. Of course, Givens is not seeking to resolve heated debates, but to explore Joseph's teachings, his views and his journey as he shared different aspects of his experience over time. As such, his treatment is a worthwhile and interesting contribution to understanding the First Vision.

The treatment of the Book of Moses, as thorough and scholarly as it is, seems to take it as an evolutionary product of Joseph’s ideas rather than leaving the door open to the possibility that it might have been a revelation in some way related to an ancient text. Givens discusses the intertextuality of the Book of Moses with the Doctrine and Covenants, but would have been more complete if he had noted the surprising elements of intertextuality with the Book of Mormon that suggest a one-way dependency of the Book of Mormon with the Book of Moses, or perhaps an ancient related document on the brass plates that had a significant impact on several Book of Mormon writers, particularly Nephi, Jacob, Alma, and Mormon. The foundational work in this area was published by Noel Reynolds years ago and has recently been significantly expanded. If there were is an ancient Book of Moses related to ours that was had on the Nephite’s brass plates, then we may need to look at the Book of Moses as something more than Joseph’s personal but inspired or inspiring musings. See Noel Reynolds, “The Brass Plates Version of Genesis” (link is to a PDF of a scanned image of pages from a book) in John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 2:136–173, recently republished in The Interpreter (I recommend the latter version for enhanced readability). For additional data extending Reynolds' work, see Jeff Lindsay, “‘Arise from the Dust’: Insights from Dust-Related Themes in the Book of Mormon (Part 1: Tracks from the Book of Moses),” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 22 (2016): 179-232.

Givens recognizes the debate that exists regarding evidence for ancient origins of at least some of the content in the Book of Moses. He notes that there is an affinity with 1 Enoch, a text that Joseph theoretically could have encountered after its translation into English in 1821 in London, and cites voices on both sides of the debate. For the argument that Joseph must have had access to and relied on First Enoch, he cites Michael Quinn and Salvatore Cirillo's 2010 thesis, while noting on the other hand that Richard Bushman finds it "scarcely conceivable" that Joseph could have known of 1 Enoch. Givens moves on and says he is not interested in resolving the debate but in "plumbing" the nature of the parallels between the Book of Moses and the Enoch tradition and the modifications that Joseph produced, "asking what they reveal about his prophetic project, and how they factored into the shaping of Latter-day Saint writings and teachings" (p. 47). Fair enough, but perhaps a word or two more on the debate would have been worthwhile.

What is overlooked is that while the relationships to the Enoch tradition include some interesting parallels to 1 Enoch, anyone examining that text will be hard-pressed to explain how it could have served as a source for Joseph. Its major themes and most striking elements are generally absent in the Book of Moses. Further, some of the most striking parallels to the ancient Enoch tradition are not found in anything Joseph could have theoretically accessed in 1830, but are found in later publications of ancient texts such as 2 Enoch, 3 Enoch, and the Qumran Book of Giants. It is in these sources, especially the Book of Giants, where the strongest evidences for ancient origins in the Book of Moses may be found. Such evidence may have been overlooked to hastily. Givens does not mention, for example, the occurrence of the names Mahujah and Mahijah in contexts that are consistent with their ancient occurrence. Attempts to explain away the multiple detailed connections between the Book of Moses and ancient Enochian traditions fail on multiple counts, as explained in detail by Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and Ryan Dahle in "Could Joseph Smith Have Drawn on Ancient Manuscripts When He Translated the Story of Enoch?: Recent Updates on a Persistent Question," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 305-374.

The treatment of the Book of Abraham, as noted above, was the primary source of disappointment with this generally useful volume.  I was disappointed but not surprised at the blind spots in the treatment of the Book of Abraham, given that many of these gaps were already identified in the approach of the recent publication by Brian Hauglid and Robin Jensen as co-editors for Joseph Smith Papers Project volume on the Book of Abraham. Readers of this blog may already be familiar with my concerns. For a summary, see Jeff Lindsay, "A Precious Resource with Some Gaps," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 13-104, and Jeff Lindsay, "Dealing with 'Friendly Fire' on the Book of Abraham," Meridian Magazine, 2019. Many of the same problems are found here, resulting in flawed conclusions that suggest the Book of Abraham was more of a product of Joseph's environment and own imagination than the product of actually translating or restoring something ancient, whether it was physically on the papyri or not.

One positive difference in this volume relative to the Joseph Smith Papers' volume on the Book of Abraham, involves Dr. Hugh Nibley, the most prolific and arguably most influential LDS scholar to have tackled many aspects of the Book of Abraham, the papyri, and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. Nibley's name is not mentioned once in any of the extensive commentary or 1000-plus footnotes of the Joseph Smith Papers volume that Hauglid co-edited, consistent with his recent "coming out" as one who finds LDS apologetics to be "abhorrent." Fortunately, this gap has been overcome in The Pearl of Greatest Price. Not only is Nibley cited and discussed, but a few of the views of LDS apologists are also mentioned. For example, the book cites the views of Nibley, Stephen Smoot, and Quinten Barney on the relationship between ancient temple texts and practices and the Book of Abraham (p. 152). Also mentioned is the appearance of Abraham's name in a variety of texts and ancient traditions related to temple worship, a pet theme of Nibley. He is mentioned many other times. That's a welcome relief.

But many problems remain. Givens and Hauglid discuss 19th century Egyptomania and recognize that it was fueled by the artifacts Napoleon brought back to Europe, but fail to recognize that foremost among these artifacts was the Rosetta Stone, and that Egyptomania was fueled by the artifact in particular and especially by the widespread recognition that Champollion had to some degree cracked the code of Egyptian by seeking to translate it. This was big news and a quick search of early nineteenth-century newspapers in the US shows that Champollion's name was a household item, even in Ohio, in Joseph's day. I can't fathom widespread Egyptomania in 1835 without Champollion and a basic understanding of what Champollion had done. However, the The Pearl of Greatest Price, like Hauglid's volume for the Joseph Smith Papers, assumes that Joseph did not know that Egyptian had been determined to be a largely alphabetic language, and that Joseph somehow still clung to the very old notion that it was a mystical, oracular language in which one character could contain a world of meaning, thus explaining how Joseph allegedly and foolishly "translated" many dozens of English words from a single character, as critics claim Joseph Smith did and as the Joseph Smith Papers volume tends to suggest in its biased discussion of the Book of Abraham manuscripts that have some characters in the margins. Such notions are belied by Joseph's own statements regarding "reformed Egyptian" and by the statements in the Book of Mormon about the nature of the language being used. I was disappointed that this flawed view persisted in this volume. Articles criticizing Hauglid's errors in this regard and on many other issues had been published long before this volume came out, though he and Givens may not have noticed them or may not have had time to reconsider prior to the publication.

Another issue is the tendency to favor the Book of Abraham as a translation produced in some kind of evolving intellectual process using the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language or the Egyptian Alphabet documents in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, though the authors at least recognize that the possibility that Joseph dictated the Book of Abraham "in a flow of oracular inspiration cannot be entirely ruled out" (p. 174). An examination of the texts in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, in my opinion, shows that the most plausible viewpoint is that the translation came first, followed by use of the translation to support whatever intellectual objective was being pursued with the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. For example, the "twin" manuscripts with characters in the margins and translated text in the right should not be seen as "windows" into how Joseph translated text in live dictation, as Hauglid has argued, but as a product of Joseph's scribes as they work with an existing text of Book of Abraham translation to create more entries for a particular unfinished section of the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language. One of several important and hard-to-miss clues for that conclusion is the very title given at the top of the twin manuscripts. Given what we know from the translation process Joseph used to create the Book of Mormon and the Book of Moses as well as the restoration of an ancient text in Doctrine and Covenants Section 7, there is no reason to believe that Joseph went about the translation of the Book of Abraham in any other way. The KirtlandEgyptian Papers do not give an window into his translation method, but tell us something else about an intellectual project whose objectives and reasons for abandonment are unclear. Further, Joseph's journal mentions creating an alphabet "to" the Book of Abraham, not "for the translation of the Book of Abraham," as if the translated text were the source for creating the alphabet.

Givens and Hauglid rely on the  common assumption that Doctrine and Covenants Section 9's language about studying things out in one's mind applies to the translation process, but this is another assumption that may be flawed. Important scholarship on this issue needs to be considered. See Stan Spencer, "The Faith to See: Burning in the Bosom and Translating the Book of Mormon in Doctrine and Covenants 9," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 18 (2016): 219-232. Also see my post, “It Depends on What the Meaning of ‘It’ Is: Reconsidering the ‘Burning in the Bosom’ and ‘Studying It Out’ in Doctrine and Covenants 9,” Mormanity, Dec. 12, 2018.

In By the Hand of Mormon, Givens evinces good familiarity with many of the evidentiary strengths of the Book of Mormon and shows no inherent aversion toward apologetics. For example, he discusses the discovery of the male name Alma in an ancient Jewish land deed and even shows an image of the document validating the much-maligned male name Alma in the Book of Mormon. He discusses apparent  Hebraisms, chiasmus, and other strengths of the Book of Mormon, and discusses recent findings that may fortify some of the potential weak spots. In The Pearl of Greatest Price, however, there seems to be somewhat less awareness of the evidence supporting the ancient roots of the Book of Abraham and the Book of Moses and perhaps more reluctance to point out the strengths of both, but perhaps that would be outside the intended scope of the work.

However, in the section on the Book of Abraham, Givens and Hauglid do mention the discovery of a plausible candidate for Olishem mentioned in Abraham 1:10 (p. 168) and note Kerry Muhlenstein's work showing that human sacrifice did occur in several forms in ancient Egypt, adding plausibility to the account in the Book of Abraham (p. 168). Parallels to the ancient biography of Idrimi are also mentioned (p. 169). Awareness of these issues is much appreciated. Many more could be mentioned, such as the various issues that have been raised at Pearl of Great Price Central and many other sources.

Granted, Givens' purpose is not to resolve debates on the origins of the Book of Abraham, but for some of the controversies and issues that are raised, I wish there had been slightly more awareness of the strengths of that text and the weakness in some of the arguments against it.

Overall, though, there is much to learn from The Pearl of Greatest Price and a few things for healthy debate. The book a valuable contribution, in spite of my objections on a few points.
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