The Coming Forth of the Book of Abraham

Matthew Porter Wilcox, “The Coming Forth of the Book of Abraham,” in BYU Religious Education 2009 Student Symposium (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 105–121.

The Coming Forth of the Book of Abraham

Matthew Porter Wilcox

Matthew Porter Wilcox is a graduate student in Religious Education.

I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions.[1]

The idea of continuous revelation—whether through prophets of God or through texts such as the Book of Mormon—has drawn many into the Church over the years. It has also driven some right back out.[2] The Book of Abraham would present new information with the potential both to excite and to offend. What did the Saints think of the Book of Abraham, and what did Joseph do to “get the minds of the Saints prepared” to accept it? This paper will discuss the various reactions to the coming forth, translation, publication, and doctrines of the Book of Abraham. It will further show that Joseph Smith was selective in what he taught the body of the Church concerning the Book of Abraham and what was contained in it until he felt the body of the Church was ready to accept its doctrines.

In the summer of 1835, Joseph Smith obtained four Egyptian mummies, some of which were accompanied by rolls of papyri. He began the process of translating the papyri immediately, with Oliver Cowdery and W. W. Phelps serving as scribes; what members of the Church know today as the Book of Abraham was translated from a portion of those papyri.[3] Only five chapters of the book would ever be published, and those waited seven years before making it to the printing press. The delay was not caused by Joseph prolonging the act of translating; quite the contrary, in fact. Journals and other accounts show that Joseph was anxiously engaged in translating from the time he received the papyri and that those five chapters were translated near the end of 1835 or the beginning of 1836.

As evidence that Joseph had been translating from the Book of Abraham, Oliver Cowdery, in September 1835, used wording that closely parallels a passage from the first chapter of Abraham. Writing about his ordination to the Aaronic Priesthood from the hands of the resurrected John the Baptist, Oliver Cowdery writes, “And we diligently sought for the right of the fathers, and the authority of the holy priesthood, and the power to administer the same; for we desired to be followers of righteousness, and in the possession of greater knowledge, even the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God.”[4] Cowdery’s words are unmistakably derived from the opening of the Book of Abraham, which states, “I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to the administer the same; having myself been a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge” (Abraham 1:2). Thus, at least part of the first chapter of the Book of Abraham had been translated in or before September 1835.

What is now known as chapter 3 of the Book of Abraham, which deals with Abraham’s understanding of astronomy, was translated on October 1, 1835. In his own journal, the Prophet records on that day that “the principles of astronomy as understood by Father Abraham and the ancients [were] unfolded to our understanding.”[5] While he used the word unfold instead of translate, Joseph made this entry in his journal in the context of a day of translating the papyri, and it is seems apparent that the word unfold at least means that he translated a good portion, if not the entire chapter. This will be explored in more detail later.

The details of the translation of the final two chapters are limited. It is even uncertain if those chapters were finished at this time period, but several factors point to a high probability that they were. First, as previously mentioned, Joseph translated at least a portion of chapter 3 on October 1 and continued translating at the very least through November 20, where he records that he “made rapid progress.”[6] Second, there is further evidence that suggests that at least the following scripture had been translated: “And then the Lord said, Let us go down, And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth” (Abraham 4:1). In his letter to William Frye, dated October 8, Oliver Cowdery states that the papyri contained “more or less of the correct ideas of notions of the Diety,” [7] a possible reference to the Abrahamic account of the creation by “the Gods.” Finally, while Joseph’s journal from July to November of 1835 is full of references to his working on the translation, his journal in the years prior to the Book of Abraham’s publication in 1842 is devoid of any mention of translating. Thus, records indicate that the translation of the chapters published in 1842 was generally finished by the end of 1835.

If Joseph had completed the translation, why did he wait seven years to publish it? This question deepens upon analysis of how those in the immediate community perceived Joseph’s possession of the ancient artifacts. While Joseph was working on the translation, those living in proximity to the Kirtland area were eager and curious to see the ancient artifacts for themselves. Egyptian mummies were rare in America in the 1830s, so when they were exhibited, they always drew huge crowds.[8] Oliver Cowdery related that “till then neither myself nor brother Smith knew of such relics being in America.” [9] In her reminiscent account, Mary Ann Stearns Winters recorded that “one day mother took me to see the Egyptian mummies that were in the upper corridor of the temple. I was very pleased to go, for there was much talk about them.”[10] Whether a believer or not, just about everyone who was able came to see the artifacts, and everyone was talking about them.

But with as much attention as the mummies drew, the papyri drew even more. Unlike the golden plates, the papyri “were seen by all the Church that saw proper to visit the house of the Prophet Joseph and also by hundreds of strangers.”[11] Several observers commented on the lasting impression that the mere act of viewing the papyri had on them, even among those not belonging to the faith. One such man, William S. West, records that seeing the records “excited my curiosity so much that I went the next day and examined them again.”[12] On seeing the papyri, Latter-day Saint accounts range from interest to a deeply spiritual experience. Of the former, Wilford Woodruff records that the “many figures that this precious treasure contains are calculated to make a lasting impression upon the mind which is not to be erased.”[13] Oliver Cowdery goes so far as to say, after describing the appearance of the papyri, that “it cannot be viewed without filling the mind with awe, unless the mind is far estranged from God.”[14]

Others were not as impressed with the writings. “The cool impudence of this imposture amused me very much,” relates Charles Francis Adams concerning the Prophet Joseph. “‘This,’ said [Joseph], ‘was written by the hand of Abraham and means so and so. If anyone denies it, let him prove the contrary. I say it.’ Of course we were too polite to prove the negative.”[15] Adams’s record is important in that it demonstrates that even those who doubted the authenticity of the papyri and thought Joseph Smith a fraud still went to view the mummies and the papyri, even paying a quarter to do so.[16] Unlike the situation with the golden plates, no one was breaking into Joseph’s house to steal the papyri, and a general feeling of curiosity abounded.

Speculation as to what the papyri contained went hand in hand with the crowds they drew. In the words of Benjamin F. Johnson, “All rejoiced when the Prophet told us these writings would be translated.”[17] In a letter to his wife Sally, W. W. Phelps wrote of the importance of the record, showing his understanding to surpass just a fervent curiosity: “These records of old times, when we translate and print them in a book, will make a good witness for the Book of Mormon. There is nothing secret or hidden that shall not be revealed, and they come to the Saints.”[18] Phelps saw the Book of Abraham not only as a witness that the Book of Mormon was true but as a record containing great mysteries, a sentiment that the Lord himself expressed later. In a noncanonized revelation through Joseph Smith to Warren Parrish (who was called to serve as Joseph’s scribe) on November 14, 1835, the Lord states that “it shall come to pass in his day, that he shall see great things show forth themselves unto my people; he shall see much of my ancient records, and shall know of hidden things.”[19]

Speculation was also used as a tool against the Prophet and the Church. Oliver Cowdery wrote and published a letter in the Messenger and Advocate for the purpose of correcting “erroneous statements, concerning both the mummies and the also the records.”[20] He further states that the Book of Abraham “must be an inestimable acquisition to our present scriptures. . . . For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” While the sentiment is the same as Phelps’s remarks, Cowdery goes on to reveal much more concerning the contents of the papyri than does his fellow scribe:

The history of the creation, the fall of man, and more or less of the correct ideas of notions of the Diety. . . . The serpent, represented as walking, or formed in a manner to be able to walk, . . . Enoch’s pillar, as mentioned by Josephus, is upon the same roll. . . . The inner end of the same roll, (Joseph’s record,) presents a representation of the judgement. . . . Michael the archangel, holding the key of the bottomless pit, and at the same time the devil as being chained and shut up in the bottomless pit. But upon this last scene, I am able only to give you a shadow.[21]

Cowdery’s description, printed on December 22, 1835, appears to have been adopted as the explanation given to visitors when the mummies and papyri were moved to the upper floor of the Kirtland Temple in August of 1836. In writing about his two visits to see the papyri, West uses identical language to that of Cowdery in describing the contents of the papyri, that it contained “the most important revelation that god ever gave to man.”[22] While his later comments show that West did not believe any such thing, his account shows that the Saints believed that it contained important information concerning the kingdom of God.

Even years after its publication, scholars continue to speculate what message the papyri really carried. Some have suggested that the translation of the papyri heavily influenced the temple endowment.[23] Joseph received and began translating the papyri in July of 1835, and a portion of the temple endowment was first presented to the Quorum of the Twelve in January 1836. Elder Bruce R. McConkie states in regard to the temple endowment that “they were given in modern times to the Prophet Joseph Smith by revelation, many things connected with them being translated by the Prophet from the papyrus on which the Book of Abraham was recorded.”[24] The connection between the temple and principles of astronomy as taught in the Book of Abraham is to be found in Facsimile 2 and its explanations on the facing page. The explanation for figure 8 states that it “contains writings that cannot be revealed unto the world; but is to be had in the Holy Temple of God.” Indeed, the explanation of figures for Facsimile 2 appears to be the most convincing evidence written by Joseph that he knew more than he was revealing, as figures 8 through 22 basically state that the interpretation will be given in “due time.”

Others have pondered what Joseph meant when he wrote that “the principles of astronomy as understood by Father Abraham and the ancients [were] unfolded to our understanding.”[25] Some have argued that the astronomy Abraham taught to the Egyptians is compatible with modern astronomical theories—”Einsteinian, or perhaps even post-Einsteinian, astronomy, where no particular object is seen as the center of the universe.” [26] Others, mostly those of other faiths, have taken the approach that it reflects nineteenth-century astronomy. Finally, a third group sees it as a reflection of a geocentric, or earth-centered universe—the prevailing view during the time of Abraham.[27] Yet other authors look more to spiritual and doctrinal connections. H. Donl Peterson, for example, ponders whether Joseph, “like Abraham, also [had] a vision of the principles of astronomy.”[28] Although Joseph’s scribes, Cowdery and Phelps, appeared to share freely what they knew about the Book of Abraham, Joseph was much more tight-lipped.

The first and only mention Joseph makes of astronomy from 1835 to 1838 is made on “Wednesday, 16 [December 1835]. . . . Returned home. Elders William E. McLellin, Brigham Young, and Jared Carter, called and paid me a visit with which I was much gratified. I exhibited and explained the Egyptian records to them, and explained many things concerning the dealings of God with the ancients, and the formation of the planetary system.”[29] The next mention of astronomy was not for another year and a half, on May 6, 1838.[30] The most likely explanation as to why Joseph wrote and taught so little from the Book of Abraham during his time in Ohio and Missouri is that it contained doctrines that, if taught, would cause many to “fly to pieces.”

While there are many aspects of the Book of Abraham that are still debated, it is clear from Joseph’s teachings that some of the principles of astronomy influenced and clarified the doctrine of the plurality of gods. The Book of Abraham states that “if two things exist, and there be one above the other, there shall be greater things above them; therefore Kolob is the greatest of all the Kokaubeam that thou hast seen, because it is nearest unto me” (Abraham 3:16). Abraham was taught that this applies to people or “intelligences;” Joseph uses this reasoning to teach that “If Abraham reasoned thus—If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also.”[31] Thus Joseph related the principles of astronomy as found in Abraham to help explain the plurality of gods and for this reason was careful with his teaching of it.

This was not the first time that Joseph had been exposed to the doctrine of plurality of gods. In a revelation in 1832 he learned that those who live the celestial law become “gods” (D&C 76:58). Joseph’s first known written mention of the possibility of more than one God does not appear until over three years later in a letter from Liberty Jail: “[In] a time to come . . . nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many Gods, they shall be manifest.”[32] Notice his statement is not affirming anything, only posing the possibility, indicating that he was as yet unwilling to reveal all that he knew until he felt the Saints were ready. However, the Book of Abraham may have been a major source for Joseph’s teachings concerning the doctrine of plurality of gods.[33]

At a young age Joseph learned reticence in revealing all he knew—his attempts to share experiences with his vision of God the Father and the Son in 1820 or the visits of the angel Moroni from 1823 to 1827 resulted in more persecutions than conversions. Joseph did not publish what is now called Joseph Smith—History, which contained his account of seeing and speaking with God the Father and Jesus Christ and later accounts of his encounters with the angel Moroni, until 1842.[34] What would later become staples in LDS history and doctrine were barely mentioned by Joseph in the early years. As early as 1831, Joseph understood the principle of plural marriage, but it was not taught to the body of the Saints until they were settled in Nauvoo, and was not openly taught until 1852, eight years after his death.[35] Such is also the case with the Book of Abraham. This is not the only example of Joseph withholding divine information from the world and even from the body of Church until he deemed them ready.

This is not to say that there were not other circumstances that contributed to the delay of the Book of Abraham’s publication. In late 1835 or early 1836, Joseph was too occupied to continue the translation due to the School of the Prophets, the finishing and dedication of the Kirtland Temple, and other matters required of him. On Wednesday, February 16, 1836, “Elder Coe called to make some arrangements about the Egyptian mummies and records. He proposes to hire a room at John Johnson’s Inn, and exhibit them there from day to day, at certain hours. . . . I complied with his request, and only observed that they must be managed with prudence and care, especially the manuscripts.”[36] Apostasy, persecution, mobs, and imprisonment in Kirtland and later in nothern Missouri through part of 1839 created both a temporal and spiritual atmosphere that would have made continued work on the translation and publication unwise, and in some cases, impossible. However, Joseph’s teaching of the contents of the Book of Abraham follows the same pattern as that of the First Vision and plural marriage: he shared the information with a few trusted individuals and would teach the full doctrine in a time and place as directed by the Spirit. As was the case with plural marriage and the First Vision, the time and place for Joseph to expound more on the doctrine of the plurality of gods was in Nauvoo.

As the Saints began to settle in Illinois, many factors allowed Joseph to feel the time was right to begin teaching the Saints some of the doctrine of the plurality of gods and to publish what he had translated from the Book of Abraham. A major factor was the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles’ increased capacity to bear off the kingdom. Before their mission to England between the years of 1837 and 1841, the Twelve had been plagued with disunity and apostasy; of the original Twelve called in 1835, half of them had apostatized by the early 1840s. Their mission to England stretched, tried, and ultimately strengthened and unified the quorum.[37] Upon the return of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from their mission to England in 1841, a special conference was convened where it was announced that “the Twelve should be called upon to stand in their place next to the First Presidency, . . . and assist to bear off the kingdom victoriously to the nations.”[38] This allowed Joseph to “devote his time more particularly to the spiritualities . . . of the whole Church.”[39] In fact, the high council issued a statement on August 31, 1840, entitled “Printing the New Translation and Abraham’s Record,” resolving that Joseph should spend more time on spiritual matters.[40] Finally, Joseph “experienced a greater freedom than he had known for the previous ten years.”[41] Both in Kirtland and in Missouri, the Saints immigrated to an area already partially settled by others, therefore the clash of beliefs was often the cause of cultural friction, especially in Missouri. Nauvoo, on the other hand, was built from the ground up by Latter-day Saints, many of whom had passed through the fiery trials of Kirtland, of Missouri, or of both, who had proven themselves loyal to Joseph. Emboldened by this new sense of security, Joseph had a portion of the book published in the Times and Seasons in March 1842, and by May had published all five chapters, with the accompanying facsimiles.

While conditions were better in Nauvoo than in Missouri, trials, persecutions, and apostasy (in part due to Joseph’s teaching of plural marriage) overwhelmed Joseph once again, and consequently he was not able to complete any further translations of the Book of Abraham. Joseph continually built up and expanded doctrines such as the plurality of gods; however, during his time in Nauvoo, he taught some aspect of this doctrine on forty-nine different occasions.[42] His teachings on the subject culminated in arguably the most important speech given in this dispensation, the King Follett discourse, which drew upon several concepts taught in the Book of Abraham.[43]

Though Nauvoo was much safer for Joseph to travel and to teach in, he was aware of dissenters and apostates intermingled with the faithful when he stood to deliver his discourse. Having taught the concept in a limited capacity previously, however, and having already published the translated portions that speak of “the Gods” creating the earth, Joseph felt the body of the Saints was ready to receive the doctrine in its fullest form yet. Even at this point he was somewhat cautious, as this statement shows: “I suppose I am not allowed to go into an investigation of anything that is not contained in the Bible. If I do I think there are so many over-wise men here, that they would cry ‘treason,’ and put me to death.”[44] While Joseph had before taught concepts of the plurality of gods and man’s potential to become like God, this is the first place that they were taught as a whole.[45] Despite having tried the tactic of teaching only from the Bible, the doctrine of the plurality of gods seemed to harden the dissenters’ resolve to oppose the Prophet, while simultaneously solidifying the testimonies of the righteous.[46] Editorials in such periodicals as Zion’s Watchman and the Warsaw Signal denounced Joseph as a fallen prophet and leveled charges of blasphemy.[47] On the other hand, Joseph Fielding recorded, “[That] was the most interesting matter of this time, and anyone that could not see in him the Spirit of Inspiration of God must be dark, they might have known that he was not a fallen Prophet.”[48] Joseph Fielding was not the only one to feel so, as evidenced by the fact that the discourse was printed three separate times for distribution before the death of the Prophet just a few months later. Those Saints who had remained faithful were prepared to receive Joseph’s teachings.

It was nearly nine years from the time Joseph began translating until the time he fully taught the content of the Book of Abraham to the corpus of the Saints. Both the Saints and those not of the faith had varying reactions to its coming forth, as well as the doctrines taught in it. Joseph was aware of the tide of opinions, but knew of the book’s potential for greater enlightenment. Because of this, he revealed its truths line upon line until the Saints were “prepared to receive the things of God.”

Notes



[1] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 331.

[2] D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 6–7. Quinn argues that the basic nature of the Church changed three times: “An unorganized body of ‘my people,’. . . a community of believers [with] . . . no formal organization,” and finally a formal organization. Quinn further claims that members such as David Whitmer left the Church primarily because of this fundamental change in the Church. See also Leland Homer Gentry, “A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri from 1836 to 1839” (PhD diss., BYU), 46–47. Gentry relates how Joseph taught Oliver Cowdery about the principle of plural marriage in the mid 1830s. Cowdery would later level charges of adultery against Joseph.

[3] This paper will not discuss the ongoing debate as to whether the Book of Abraham was translated or received by revelation. For the purposes of this paper, I will use the term translate.

[4] Oliver Cowdery, Patriarch Blessing Book, 2 October 1835, quoted in Joseph F. Smith Jr., “Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood,” Improvement Era, October 1904, 7:942.

[5] Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 2:286.

[6] The Papers of Joseph Smith, ed. Dean C. Jessee (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 1:144.

[7] Oliver Cowdery, “Egyptian Mummies—Ancient Records,” Messenger and Advocate, December 1835, 236.

[8] Palmyra (New York) Herald, July 24, 1822, cited in H. Donl Peterson, The Story of the Book of Abraham: Mummies, Manuscripts, and Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1995), 103.

[9] Cowdery, “Egyptian Mummies,” 235.

[10] “An Autobiographical Sketch of the Life of the Late Mary Ann Stearns Winters, Daughter of Mary Ann Stearns Pratt,” Relief Society Magazine, August 1916, 432.

[11] Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854–56) 20:68.

[12] Wiliam S. West, A Few Interesting Facts Respecting the Rise[,] Progress[,] and Pretensions of the Mormons (Warren, OH, n.p., 1837), 4; http://www.olivercowdery.com/smithhome/1830s/1837west.htm; http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/WSWest.html.

[13] Dean C. Jessee, “The Kirtland Diary of Wilford Woodruff,” BYU Studies 12, no. 4 (Summer 1972): 370.

[14] Cowdery, “Egyptian Mummies,” 236.

[15] Diary of Charles Adams, May 15, 1844, in Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 67 (1952), 285, quoted in William V. Smith, A Joseph Smith Commentary on the Book of Abraham: An Introduction to the Study of the Book of Abraham, 322–23; http://boap.org/LDS/BOAP/SecondEd/Draft-copy/AppendixV-JS-Commentary-on-....

[16] Diary of Charles Adams, May 15, 1844.

[17] Benjamin F. Johnson, Benjamin F. Johnson: My Life’s Review (Independence, MO: Zion’s Printing, 1947); http://boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/BFJohnson.html.

[18] Leah Y. Phelps, “Letters of Faith from Kirtland,” Improvement Era, August 1942, 529.

[19] Smith, History of the Church, 2:311.

[20] Cowdery, “Egyptian Mummies,” 233.

[21] Cowdery, “Egyptian Mummies,” 236.

[22] West, A Few Interesting Facts, 6.

[23] Peterson, Story of the Book of Abraham, 131. See also Kent Jackson, From Apostasy to Restoration (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 215–16, and Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975), 14. While Nibley does not claim outright that the Book of Abraham is at least in part an inspiration for the LDS temple endowment, he does admit that there are many parallels between the Egyptian “endowment,” found in the Book of Breathings that were part of the Joseph Smith Papyri, and the LDS endowment.

[24] Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 779.

[25] Smith, History of the Church, 2:286.

[26] John Gee, William J. Hamblin, and Daniel C. Peterson, “‘And I Saw the Stars’: The Book of Abraham and Ancient Geocentric Astronomy,” in Studies in the Book of Abraham: Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2005); http://mi.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=40&chapid=161. Gee, Hamblin, and Peterson show that the majority of Latter-day Saint scholars have taken this approach. They cite the following works: R. Grant Athay, “Worlds without Number: The Astronomy of Enoch, Abraham, and Moses,” BYU Studies 8, no. 3 (1968): 255–69; R. Grant Athay, “Astrophysics and Mormonism” (Provo, UT: BYU, 1972), 14–19, lecture given September 1972; H. Kimball Hansen, “Astronomy and the Scriptures,” in Science and Religion: Toward a More Useful Dialogue, ed. Wilford M. Hess and Raymond T. Matheny (Geneva, IL: Paladin House Publishers, 1979), 1:181–96; Michael D. Rhodes and J. Ward Moody, “Astronomy and the Creation in the Book of Abraham.” See also note 4 of the same article; the authors list the most recent attempts, usually by non-Latter-day Saint authors, to show Abraham’s account as indicative of a nineteenth-century concept of astronomy (Dan Vogel and Brent Metcalfe, “Joseph Smith’s Scriptural Cosmology,” in The Word of God, ed. Dan Vogel [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990], 187–219).

[27] Gee, Hamblin, and Peterson, “‘And I Saw the Stars,’” 1.

[28] Peterson, The Story of the Book of Abraham, 121.

[29] Smith, History of the Church, 2:334.

[30] Papers of Joseph Smith, 105; “The Prophet was then on his [way] to see the President of the United States,” George Woodward related many years later, “to get redress for grievances of the saints. He was preaching at a meeting upon astronomy and told where God resided.” (St. George Temple Minute Book, January 11, 1900, 45, Church History Library; emphasis added). While in Washington, Joseph Smith again preaches on Book of Abraham matters; see notes at (3:18); quoted in the Book of Abraham Project, http://www.boap.org/).

[31] Teachings of Joseph Smith, 373.

[32] Smith, History of the Church, 3:296. Hale, in his article, “Doctrinal Impact of the King Follett Discourse,” BYU Studies 18, no. 2 (Winter 1978): 213, claims that Joseph began teaching the idea of many gods in 1835. Unfortunately, he provides no references for his claim. The earliest reference that I could find is cited in the paper as 1839. He does provide evidence that certain people reacted to the statement in Doctrine and Covenants 76:58, however.

[33] Hale, “Doctrinal Impact,” 213.

[34] See James B. Allen, Ronald K. Esplin, and David J. Whitmer, Men With a Mission, 1837–1841: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 262–63. “Orson’s Interesting Account was especially important. . . . Of particular significance was the first account ever to be published of Joseph Smith’s First Vision of 1820. Before that time, Mormon missionary literature and historical essays had emphasized the Book of Mormon, and even though Joseph Smith had previously discussed the all-important vision with selected friends and acquaintances, he had chosen not to publish it to the world. Only in 1838 . . . did he begin to prepare his own account for publication.”

[35] James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 186.

[36] Smith, History of the Church, 2:396.

[37] Allen and Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 163.

[38] Smith, History of the Church, 4:403.

[39] Nauvoo High Council Minute Book, 60–62, Church History Library, quoted in Peterson, Story of the Book of Abraham, 144.

[40] Smith, History of the Church, 4:184–87, quoted in Peterson, Story of the Book of Abraham, 145–46.

[41] T. Edgar Lyon, “Doctrinal Development of the Church During the Nauvoo Sojourn, 1839–1846.” BYU Studies 15, no. 4 (Summer 1975): 435.

[42] Hale, “Doctrinal Impact,” 213.

[43] Lyon, “Development of the Church,” 444–45.

[44] Teachings of Joseph Smith, 349. See also Hale, “Doctrinal Impact.” Hale shows the progression of the Prophet’s teachings starting in 1839 concerning the doctrines taught in the King Follet discourse. He further shows that the concept of plurality of Gods, while not introduced by Abraham’s record, probably had the most influence on its development.

[45] Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History (New York: Knopf, 1945), 366.

[46] Hale, “Doctrinal Impact,” 211–12.

[47] “The Death of a Mormon Dictator: Letters of Massachusetts Mormons, 1843–1848,” ed. George F. Partridge, The New England Quarterly 9 (December 1836): 593–605 contains three letters of importance to this discussion: Sarah and Isaac Scott to Sarah’s parents, June 16, 1844; Sarah Scott to her parents, July 22, 1844; Sarah Scott to her brother, March 1, 1845, quoted in Hale, “Doctrinal Impact,” 214.

[48]Journal of Joseph Fielding, April 1844, 29, Church History Library, quoted in Hale, “Doctrinal Impact,” 211.