[David] You make some interesting comments in your Preface regarding the opinion of many people in modern society concerning Mormonism, which would presumably apply to the Book of Moses as well. Specifically, that Mormons seem to be a very superstitious people from the perspective of our modern, scientific world, with our beliefs based, as author J. Hannay once charged, on “the absurdity of seeing visions in the age of railways.” The Book of Moses, I would think, would be a prime example of this supposed fault: a book produced in modern times that contains a very traditional view of the Creation, very literal descriptions of Satan and of God’s corporeality, etc. It has a number of visions in which Moses and Enoch actually see God. It contains quite fanciful accounts of the Earth speaking and mourning and even God himself weeping. Do these elements and others in the Book of Moses lend support to a negative perception of Mormonism as outdated and what Mormons say as “mostly nonsense”? What weight should Latter-day Saints place on the Book of Moses as a part of their personal beliefs?
[Dr. Jeff Bradshaw] Our acceptance of the book of Moses as part of the LDS scriptural canon and, more generally, the premise that the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible might contain something more than a naïve personal update on passages that perplexed the Prophet has not only been a source of amusement for many non-Mormons, but also has drawn criticism from some within the tradition of the Restoration. Consider the following quotation from former Community of Christ President W. Grant McMurray who, in a 2006 address to the John Whitmer Historical Association, said:
I grew up being taught that not only did we have the original church restored, but we were also given the Bible in its perfected, pristine form resulting from Joseph Smith’s call to translate it under the influence of the Holy Spirit. We have known for decades that it is not a restoration of the original text. That would be even more compelling a statement if there were such a thing as an original text of the Bible. What we do have is a theological commentary by Joseph Smith, demonstrably incomplete, that got some of the most significant scriptural language, particularly the theology of grace so beautifully expressed in the Pauline letters and butchered in the Inspired Version. It is time to identify it properly as a product of Joseph Smith’s fertile and creative mind. I have not preached from it for decades. There are many fine versions available based on current scholarship and with poetic and literary power. The Inspired Version should have no standing as an authoritative Biblical version for the Church (quoted in Richard G. Moore, Know Your Religions Volume 2: A Comparative Look at Mormonism and the Community of Christ, Orem, UT: Millennial Press, pp. 111-112).
While recognizing that the above statement of President McMurray does not represent the view of all members of the Community of Christ, still it expresses the view of many people today.
[David] What are some of the opinions expressed in current scholarship, both LDS and non-LDS, concerning the Book of Moses and its value?
[Dr. Jeff Bradshaw] In contrast to numerous scholarly analyses of Joseph Smith’s translations of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham that began to appear in the 19th century, explorations of the textual foundations of the JST began in earnest only in the 1960s, with the pioneering work of the RLDS scholar Richard P. Howard and the LDS scholar Robert J. Matthews (R. P. Howard, Restoration Scriptures; R. J. Matthews, Plainer Translation). A facsimile transcription of all the original manuscripts of the JST was at last published in 2004 (S. H. Faulring, et al., Joseph Smith’s New Translation). Among other studies of the Joseph Smith Translation, Brigham Young University Professor Kent P. Jackson, a longtime student of these topics, prepared a detailed study of the text of the portions of the JST relating to the book of Moses in 2005 (K. P. Jackson, Book of Moses).
Although several brief studies of the teachings of the book of Moses had previously appeared as part of apologetic and doctrinally-focused LDS commentaries on the Pearl of Great Price, the first detailed verse-by-verse commentary—and the first to incorporate significant amounts of modern non-LDS Bible scholarship—was published by Richard D. Draper, S. Kent Brown, and Michael D. Rhodes in 2005 (R. D. Draper, et al., Pearl of Great Price). All the LDS scholars mentioned above, and many more, take the book of Moses seriously as an inspired work of scripture, with echoes of ancient traditions readily apparent in many places.
A few non-Mormon scholars have also courageously signaled their appreciation of the significance of the Joseph Smith’s translation efforts in light of ancient documents. For example, Margaret Barker cited relevant passages from the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith Translation in her 2007 Society of Biblical of Literature presentation on Jewish and early Christian perspectives on Melchizedek (M. Barker, Who was Melchizedek?). Noted Yale critic of secular and sacred literature Harold Bloom, who in 2005 classed these the book of Moses and the book of Abraham among the “more surprising” and “neglected” works of LDS scripture (H. Bloom, Names Divine, p. 25), is intrigued by the fact that many of their themes are “strikingly akin to ancient suggestions” that essentially restate “the archaic or original Jewish religion, a Judaism that preceded even the Yahwist.” While expressing “no judgment, one way or the other, upon the authenticity” of LDS scripture, he finds “enormous validity” in the way these writings “recapture… crucial elements in the archaic Jewish religion.… that had ceased to be available either to normative Judaism or to Christianity, and that survived only in esoteric traditions unlikely to have touched [Joseph] Smith directly” (H. Bloom, American Religion, pp. 98, 99, 101).
[David] What do you feel that you, personally, have gained from your extensive studies of the Book of Moses?
Although I have always felt a special spiritual affinity to the book of Moses, my study has given me additional “reason[s] for the hope that is within [me]” (1 Peter 3:15). The way in which my “intellectual conversion” to the book of Moses was added to my spiritual witness recalled for me Elder B. H. Roberts’ description of the greater appreciation he experienced of the Atonement as he finished the writing of a manual on that subject for the Seventy:
[W]hile religion must appeal to and satisfy the emotional nature, it must also appeal to and satisfy the intellect… [T]his late inquiry into that subject has had a wonderful effect upon my own thought and state of mind… It has been a matter of faith with me and knowledge, by the testimony of the Spirit of God to my soul; but upon close inquiry, by deeper delving into the subject, my intellect also gives its full and complete assent… I account it for myself a new conversion, an intellectual conversion, … and I have been rejoicing in it of late exceedingly. (B. H. Roberts, 8 April 1911, p. 59)
Having spent more than three years in focused study of the book of Moses, I have been astonished with the extent to which its words reverberate with the echoes of antiquity—and, no less significantly, with the deepest truths of my personal experience. Indeed, I would not merely assert that the book of Moses holds up well under close examination, but rather that, like a fractal whose self-similar patterns become more wondrous upon ever closer inspection, the brilliance of its inspiration shines most impressively under bright light and high magnification: there is glory in the details.
To Be Continued…
Post author’s note: Since I began this series, I have received a significant number of inquiries regarding international orders of Jeffrey Bradshaw’s book. We have been assured that Eborn Bookstore, the publisher, is very happy to take international orders directly.
If you don’t mind making an international call, you can reach Eborn Bookstore directly during the day or evening MST at +1 (801) 965-9410. Also, their email address is: email@example.com