“Unit 31: Day 2, The Coming Forth of the Pearl of Great Price,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2017)
“Unit 31: Day 2,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide
In 1851, Elder Franklin D. Richards, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the president of the British Mission, published several revelations, translations, and writings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and called the collection the Pearl of Great Price, which was later added to the standard works. “The Pearl of Great Price is a selection of choice materials touching many significant aspects of the faith and doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (introduction to the Pearl of Great Price). The phrase “pearl of great price” comes from one of Jesus Christ’s parables (see Matthew 13:45–46). In this parable a merchant sells all he owns to obtain a valuable pearl.
Do you know how pearls are made? A pearl is produced inside an oyster as the oyster responds to the irritation of foreign matter, such as a grain of sand. The oyster produces a substance to surround the grain, and this eventually forms a pearl. Natural pearls are rare and are considered precious.
In this lesson you will learn about the origin of another pearl—the book of scripture titled the Pearl of Great Price. As you study how this book came forth, look for some reasons the Pearl of Great Price is precious to us.
Read the first paragraph in the introduction to the Pearl of Great Price, looking for what is contained in the Pearl of Great Price. The word periodicals refers to newspapers or magazines—publications that are distributed periodically, such as daily, weekly, or monthly.
In the second paragraph of the introduction, we learn that in 1851, Elder Franklin D. Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles compiled a collection of materials from the Prophet Joseph Smith and published them as the Pearl of Great Price. Before materials can become part of the standard works, the First Presidency must approve them and present them to the Church in a general conference for a sustaining vote. During a general conference of the Church in October 1880, the Church accepted the Pearl of Great Price as scripture—part of the standard works.
In the third paragraph of the introduction, we learn that since the first printing of the Pearl of Great Price, some content has been added or moved. Some of its content was added and later moved to the Doctrine and Covenants.
Read the rest of the introduction, and identify the present contents of the Pearl of Great Price.
The book of Moses and Joseph Smith—Matthew are part of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. The Joseph Smith Translation is “a revision or translation of the King James Version of the Bible in English, which the Prophet Joseph Smith began in June 1830. He was commanded by God to make the translation and regarded it as part of his calling as a prophet” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Joseph Smith Translation,” scriptures.lds.org). The Lord revealed the text of the book of Moses to Joseph Smith as Joseph made additions, changes, and deletions to the first several chapters of Genesis during his translation of the Bible. The book of Moses contains precious truths concerning Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation.
- Scan the book of Moses, and find at least one verse that contains a truth you consider precious. Write the verse you selected in your scripture study journal, and write why it is meaningful to you.
Like the book of Moses, the book of Abraham restores precious truths. It teaches about our premortal life and provides greater understanding concerning the life and ministry of Abraham and the covenant the Lord made with him. It is a treasure to have the book of Abraham and see how he honored God at all times and how God honored him.
The following is a description of how the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the ancient writings in the book of Abraham: “On 3 July 1835 a man named Michael Chandler brought four Egyptian mummies and several papyrus scrolls of ancient Egyptian writings to Kirtland, Ohio. The mummies and papyri had been discovered in Egypt several years earlier by Antonio Lebolo. Kirtland was one of many stops in the eastern United States for Chandler’s mummy exhibition. Chandler was offering the mummies and rolls of papyrus for sale and, at the urging of the Prophet Joseph Smith, several members of the Church donated money to purchase them. In a statement dated 5 July 1835, Joseph Smith, declaring the importance of these ancient Egyptian writings, recorded: ‘I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham. … Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth’ (History of the Church, 2:236).” (The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2000], 28).
Some have wondered how the Prophet translated the ancient writings. Joseph Smith never communicated his method of translating these records, but he translated these writings by the gift and power of God. The Church, scholars, and historians continue to seek to better understand the origins of this book. As with all other scriptures, the greatest means of gaining a testimony of the truthfulness of the book of Abraham is through prayerful study of the book itself. For more information, go to LDS.org, select Gospel Topics, and search for book of Abraham.
- In your scripture journal, answer the following question: Why is it important to obtain a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the book of Abraham?
The following is a list of commonly asked questions with their accompanying answers about the coming forth of the book of Abraham:
Question: Why did Joseph Smith say he had translated the writings of Abraham even though the manuscripts do not date from Abraham’s time?
Answer: The Prophet Joseph Smith said the book of Abraham was “a translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catecombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt” (Times and Seasons, Mar. 1, 1842, 704).
In 1966, 11 fragments of papyri the Prophet Joseph Smith once had were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. These papyri contain authentic Egyptian writings, but they do not date to the time of Abraham, nor do they contain the actual personally handwritten account of Abraham. It is important to remember that only a few fragments and not all of the papyri that Joseph Smith possessed have been found. The book of Abraham may have been translated from papyri that have not been recovered. These lost papyri may have contained copies of Abraham’s writings.
At the present time we simply do not know the exact nature of the relationship between the book of Abraham and the papyri Joseph Smith possessed. There are various theories proposed as to how the prophet translated these writings, but we simply do not know the details. We do know that the Prophet Joseph Smith translated the book of Abraham by the gift and power of God.
Question: What did Joseph Smith do with his translation?
Answer: “The book of Abraham was originally published a few excerpts at a time in Times and Seasons, a Church publication, beginning in March 1842 at Nauvoo, Illinois [see the introduction to the Pearl of Great Price]. The Prophet Joseph Smith indicated that he would publish more of the book of Abraham later, but he was martyred before he was able to do so. Concerning the potential length of the completed translation, Oliver Cowdery once said that ‘volumes’ would be necessary to contain it (see Messenger and Advocate, Dec. 1835, 236).
“In addition to hieroglyphic writings, the manuscript also contained Egyptian drawings. On 23 February 1842, the Prophet Joseph Smith asked Reuben Hedlock, a professional wood engraver and member of the Church, to prepare woodcuts of three of those drawings so they could be printed. Hedlock finished the engravings in one week, and Joseph Smith published the copies (facsimiles) along with the book of Abraham. Joseph Smith’s explanations of the drawings accompany the facsimiles” (The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, 28–29).
Question: What happened to the mummies and the papyri?
Answer: “After the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the four mummies and the papyri became the property of Joseph’s widowed mother, Lucy Mack Smith. At Lucy’s death in 1856, Emma Smith, the Prophet’s wife, sold the collection to Mr. A. Combs. Several theories have been offered regarding what happened subsequently to the mummies and the papyri. It appears that at least two of the mummies were burned in the great Chicago fire of 1871 (see B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 vols. [1909–11], 2:380–382).
“In the early spring of 1966, Dr. Aziz S. Atiya, a University of Utah professor, discovered several fragments of the book of Abraham papyri while doing research at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. These fragments were presented to the Church by the director of the museum on 27 November 1967. The current whereabouts of the other mummies and the other portions of the papyri are unknown (see H. Donl Peterson, “Some Joseph Smith Papyri Rediscovered (1967)” in Studies in Scripture, Volume Two, 183–85)” (The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, 29).
In addition to teaching valuable doctrine and principles, the Pearl of Great Price is evidence that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.
- Answer the following question in your scripture study journal: In what ways do you think the Pearl of Great Price is evidence of Joseph Smith’s calling as a prophet?
On March 1, 1842, the Prophet Joseph Smith published a letter he had written to John Wentworth, a newspaper editor, explaining the history and beliefs of the Church. This is commonly known as the Wentworth Letter. In it, Joseph declared 13 fundamental principles of the gospel. These beliefs have been included in the Pearl of Great Price as the Articles of Faith. Although they are not a statement of all of our beliefs, they are an important set of doctrines and principles.
Locate and read the Articles of Faith in the Pearl of Great Price.
- Choose two articles of faith. In your scripture study journal, complete the following activities for each:
Write in your own words the doctrine or principle the article of faith teaches.
Find a scripture that supports or explains the doctrine or principle in the article of faith. Write insights the scripture adds to your understanding of this doctrine or principle.
List a way that understanding and believing this article of faith might bring blessings into someone’s life.
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles related how knowledge of the Articles of Faith could be particularly helpful to members of the Church:
“I reached the conclusion that if I studied the content of each of the Articles of Faith, I could explain and defend every gospel principle I might have the opportunity to expound to someone searching for the restored truth.
“What a great blessing it would be if every member of the Church memorized the Articles of Faith and became knowledgeable about the principles contained in each. We would be better prepared to share the gospel with others. …
“The Articles of Faith were not the work of a team of scholars but were authored by a single, inspired man who declared comprehensively and concisely the essential doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They contain direct and simple statements of the principles of our religion, and they constitute strong evidence of the divine inspiration that rested upon the Prophet Joseph Smith” (“The Articles of Faith,” Ensign, May 1998, 23–24).
- Answer the following questions in your scripture study journal:
How can direct and simple statements of principles be helpful in explaining and teaching the gospel?
Write about an experience when the Articles of Faith or the truths they contain have helped you explain the gospel to someone. If you haven’t had such an experience, list possible questions others might ask about our religion that could be answered by the Articles of Faith.
You may want to set a goal to study and memorize all of the Articles of Faith. Doing so will add to your ability to explain the principles of the gospel.
- Write the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture study journal:
I have studied “The Coming Forth of the Pearl of Great Price” lesson and completed it on (date).
Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like to share with my teacher: