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Literature / The Pearl of Great Price

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The Pearl of Great Price is a miscellaneous collection of writings by Joseph Smith which are important in the Latter-day Saint movement. It is considered Sacred Scripture by quite a few churches in the movement, including the largest denomination, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Two of the books in The Pearl of Great Price are extracts from the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of The Bible: The Book of Moses (from the Book of Genesis) and Joseph Smith—Matthew. The JST was Joseph Smith's attempt to use revelation to restore certain parts of the Bible believed to have been lost over the years, so these chapters often expand on the original text.


The origins of the Book of Abraham are hotly debated in secular and apologetic circles. Suffice it to say, Joseph Smith got a hold of some papyri and said it had some writings from the prophet Abraham. He translated these writings, which include details on Abraham's travels Canaan and Egypt, and his vision of the creation and the cosmos. Later, after the Rosetta Stone enabled the translation of hieroglyphics, it was demonstrated to say nothing of the sort. The standard apologetic response these days is that the papyrus served as a sort of focus for Smith to receive a new revelation.

One of the last books in The Pearl of Great Price is "Joseph Smith—History", which is Joseph Smith's standardized account of his early life and the founding story of the Latter-day Saint movement, including the First Vision and the discovery of The Book of Mormon after the visitation of the Angel Moroni.note  The Pearl of Great Price also includes the Articles of Faith, a short creed which Joseph Smith originally sent to a newspaper editor.


The Pearl of Great Price contains examples of:

  • Adam and Eve Plot: The Books of Moses and Abraham add more details on the Creation and Fall of Adam and Eve.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The Book of Moses expands on the Creation story in the Book of Genesis, though whether this counts as an "adaptation" or "restoration" depends on whether one believes Joseph Smith was inspired to write it.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: After word gets out that Joseph Smith had a vision, everyone starts to persecute him.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: The sons and daughters of Adam and Eve began to "divide two and two in the land ... and they also begat sons and daughters," (Moses 5:3).
  • Cain and Abel: The Trope Namers appear in Moses 5.
  • Dark Is Evil: Just as Joseph Smith starts praying, an evil power confronts him in the form of a thick darkness.
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  • Deal with the Devil: Cain and Lamech both enter into covenants with Satan to kill for personal gain.
  • The Descendants of Cain: The book describes a vision in which "the seed of Cain were black" and thus set apart from all of Adam's other descendants (Moses 7:22). The scripture also states that Canaan's children were all cursed with a despicable "blackness" (Moses 7:8), and explains that the Egyptians were forbidden the priesthood because their Canaanite descent through Ham's daughter Egyptus "preserved the curse in the land," apparently referring to the curse of Ham (Abraham 1:23—27).
  • Deus ex Machina: God and Jesus Christ appear to Joseph Smith at the very moment he's about to give up to the power of a thick darkness.
  • Early Installment Weirdness / Re-Cut:
    • The first (1851) edition of the Pearl of Great Price was published in England; it wasn't originally compiled with the intent to be added to the canon, and didn't assume that the people reading it necessarily had access to a copy of the Doctrine and Covenants. It contained several more books: "A Key to the Revelations of St. John" (moved to the Doctrine and Covenants in 1876 as section 77), "A revelation and prophecy by the prophet, seer, and revelator, Joseph Smith" (which was also moved to the D&C, as section 87), several excerpts from existing D&C sections and the hymn "Oh! say, what is truth?". There are no verse numbers.
    • History would later repeat itself with the "Vision of the Celestial Kingdom" and "Vision of the Redemption of the Dead" being added first to the Pearl of Great Price in 1976, before being moved to the Doctrine and Covenants (as sections 137 and 138) in 1979. The content of the Pearl of Great Price has remained essentially fixed since 1979, though the Book of Abraham facsimiles are now scans of the original Times and Seasons prints from the original printing plates, rather than the nth-generation hand-engraved printing plates with several accumulated copying errors used in the past.
    • The wording of the first edition is somewhat different in places due to descending from earlier JST manuscripts, e.g. the famous "my work and my glory" sentence appears as "Behold, this is my work to my glory, to the immortality and eternal life of man." (with no "bring to pass").
    • The Zion of Enoch account is included in the first edition as a separate book before the Book of Moses, rather than as part of the Book of Moses, and both Enoch and Moses are rather significantly shorter (with sections missing) than Moses is in later editions. Subsequent editions added the rest of the Moses material and revised wording taken from the RLDS Church (Community of Christ)'s published JST and divided Moses into the Visions of Moses (now chapter 1) and the Writings of Moses (now chapters 2–8), until the current verse system was introduced.
  • Fallen Angel: How Lucifer became Satan, as described in Moses 4:3—4. Essentially, Satan rebelled against God's plan for humanity, so God and Jesus Christ cast him out and down to earth. He would be allowed to tempt humanity, and each person would have to choose if they wanted to follow Satan or God.
  • Flaming Sword: Cherubim uses one to stop Adam and Eve from partaking of the Tree of Life.
  • Footnote Fever: Joseph Smith–History contains an enormous seven-paragraph-long footnote quoting Oliver Cowdery's account of his scribal work in the translation of the Book of Mormon and receiving the Aaronic Priesthood. Although footnotes for cross-references or study aids are commonplace in the modern LDS Standard Works, this is by far the longest footnote in the entire Standard Works, with nothing else coming even close. It is also the only footnote that has been in the Pearl of Great Price since its first edition, counting essentially as part of the text as opposed to an edition-specific study aid added later.
  • Go and Sin No More: In Moses 6:52—53, The Lord teaches Adam the Gospel of Christ, and then forgives him for his transgression in the Garden.
  • Human Sacrifice: An idolatrous priest tries to sacrifice Abraham, but the Angel of the Lord rescues him.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The book's title is a reference to the Parable of the Pearl in Matthew 13.
  • Meaningful Rename: Cain and Lamech becomes known as Master Mahan in Moses 5 after they enter into a covenant with Satan.
  • Mood Whiplash: A thick darkness first envelops Joseph Smith when he starts to pray and he starts to sink into despair, but he keeps on praying until God and Jesus deliver him from the darkness.
  • Speech Impediment: Enoch mentions that he is "slow of speech" in Moses 6:31.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The Book of Moses tells the creation story as it was given to Moses, while the Book of Abraham tells it when the Lord shows Abraham all things.