The Joseph Smith Papers editors reconstruct a timeline of the translation of the Book of Abraham.

The Joseph Smith Papers

"Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts," The Joseph Smith Papers Project website, accessed October 8, 2021

The Joseph Smith Papers
The Joseph Smith Papers
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It is unclear when in 1835 Joseph Smith began creating the existing Book of Abraham manuscripts or what relationship the Book of Abraham manuscripts have to the Egyptian-language documents. . . . Beyond the clues in the manuscripts themselves, little evidence exists to provide a timeline for the Kirtland-era work on the Egyptian-language documents or translation of the Book of Abraham.

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By October, the efforts had recommenced. Joseph Smith’s second journal, which began 22 September 1835, mentioned work on the decipherment of the papyri seven times from October through November 1835. On 1 October, the journal recorded that Smith, Cowdery, and Phelps “labored on the Egyptian alphabet.” One week later, the journal states that Smith had “recommenced translating the ancient records.” Five more times in late November, Smith and likely Phelps and Parrish were occupied either in “translating” or in “transcribing Egyptian characters from the papyrus.” The work, however, seemed to end during winter 1835–1836 as other activities apparently took precedence, including setting up a school to study Hebrew.

While no evidence exists that Joseph Smith and his clerks worked on either the Egyptian-language documents or the Book of Abraham between late 1835 and early 1842, Smith showed the mummies and papyri to visitors and preached to audiences on doctrine from the Book of Abraham. Following the dedication of the House of the Lord in Kirtland in spring 1836, the papyri and mummies were housed in the attic of that building. Several attempts were made in Kirtland to publish “the Egyptian records,” even though the Book of Abraham text was apparently not yet complete.

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Joseph Smith officially took over the editorship of the church-owned newspaper Times and Seasons starting with the 1 March 1842 issue, about the same time that he resumed his translation of the Book of Abraham. Wilford Woodruff, who assisted in the Times and Seasons office, wrote in his journal in mid-February 1842, “Joseph has had these records in his possession for several years, but has never presented them before the world in the english language untill now. But he is now about to publish it to the world or parts of it by publishing it in the Times & Seasons.” In a letter written in early March 1842, Smith stated, “I am now very busily engaged in Translating, and therefore cannot give as much time to Public matters as I could wish.” During this period, Willard Richards created a copy of one of the Kirtland-era Book of Abraham manuscripts (what is now Abraham 1:1–2:18) and apparently acted as scribe for the creation of an additional Book of Abraham manuscript (the remainder of the extant text) and the extant explanations of the vignettes that were published as Facsimiles 1, 2, and 3.

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