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Old Testament Revision 1

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In June 1830, only weeks after the Book of Mormon was published (in March) and the Church of Christ organized (in April), JS began dictating to Oliver Cowdery a revelation dealing with several key Old Testament figures. The revelation opens with “the words of God which he spake unto Moses,” a visionary experience in which Moses receives a knowledge of God and his Only Begotten and learns the purpose of creation. He sees the spirit creation of all things, the appointment of Christ during a premortal council, the effects of the Fall, and the introduction of the gospel to fallen mankind. Moses understands the place of man in the divine plan and foresees his own future role. The manuscript continues with the story of Adam and Eve and several generations of their descendants. A detailed exposition of the experiences of Enoch is included, even though the biblical account contains only a brief mention of that ancient prophet. The manuscript records Enoch’s prophecies of the coming of the Son of Man and recounts the ministry of Noah and the life of Abraham.
Like many other revelations, this manuscript bears a simple heading. Written in the hand of scribe Cowdery, the heading reads, “A Revelation given to Joseph the Revelator June 1830.” What prompted this revelation when JS first began dictating in June 1830 is unknown, but the resulting lengthy manuscript opened an ambitious project of biblical expansion and revision. After the vision of Moses, which recounts a conversation with Deity unrelated to known biblical texts, on the third page and under a new heading (“A Revelation given to the Elders of the Church of Christ On the First Book of Moses”) the manuscript begins an account of the Creation that resembles Genesis 1. The lengthy opening vision and some portions later in the manuscript record prophetic experience at best hinted at in biblical texts, but as the transcript unfolded over the next several months, it became a commentary on and often an expansion of the King James Version of Genesis.
At some point during the creation of this manuscript, JS came to see such “restoration” of lost biblical texts as part of his prophetic mission. Book of Mormon passages he dictated to Oliver Cowdery in 1829 spoke of “plain and precious things” missing from “the Book, which is the Book of the Lamb of God” and promised that these “plain and most precious parts of the Gospel of the Lamb” would be restored. (Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 30–31 [1 Nephi 13:28, 32].) On the third page of this manuscript, just before the beginning of the creation account, this revelation similarly declares that lost scriptural passages “shall be had again among the Children of men.” An early December 1830 revelation was explicit. After affirming that JS had been given keys to unlock ancient knowledge, the revelation addressed Sidney Rigdon, commanding “that thou shalt write for [JS] and the scriptures shall be given even as they are in mine own bosom.” (Revelation, 7 Dec. 1830, in Doctrine and Covenants 11:5, 1835 ed. [D&C 35:20].)
This manuscript was begun at a time when JS and his religious associates in the Susquehanna valley of northern Pennsylvania (JS resided in Harmony) and southern New York (a number of followers lived in nearby Colesville) faced intense opposition from both neighbors and civil authorities. Despite such pressures, JS and Cowdery may have begun this manuscript in Harmony, but in part to escape harassment later in June they moved north to Fayette Township, New York, a more hospitable environment. When Cowdery departed Fayette in early fall 1830 for a mission to the West, he had he written nine manuscript pages from JS’s dictation. His replacement as scribe, John Whitmer, inscribed seventeen lines under the date of 21 October 1830, and then another page and a half under the date of 30 November 1830. The next day Emma Smith began writing and inscribed two pages under the date of 1 December 1830. After his early December arrival, Sidney Rigdon, an educated new convert from Ohio, became the main scribe (as commanded in the revelation already noted). Most of the remainder of the sixty-page manuscript is in his hand.
A January 1831 move to Ohio interrupted progress on what was now clearly a work of biblical revision, but JS and Rigdon resumed work in February and finished this manuscript in March. After John Whitmer made a second copy of the completed manuscript, he documented his work by inserting a final date at the end of this copy: “April 5th 1831 transcribed thus far.” This original manuscript was then retired and JS and Rigdon continued the ambitious Bible revision using Whitmer’s copy. Bible revision remained an important concern of JS into 1833.
Note: The transcript of Old Testament Revision 1 presented here is used with generous permission of the Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center. It was published earlier, with some differences in style, in Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, eds., Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004), 75–152.