While JI has not done one recently, we have from time to time written a “From the Archives” post where we pluck from the historical archives an interesting document as a way to highlight an important theme, offer a new interpretation, or merely start an enlightening discussion. This post is aimed to do all of the above, only perhaps even more so because of the interesting nature of this particular document. It offers so many possibilities for interpretation, in fact, that I have asked three knowledgeable historians to give their take on it from their individual backgrounds and expertise.
Because of the richness of the topic, and the length of the document and responses, I have decided to break it up into two parts: the first part will give a brief introduction to the text, followed by the text itself; the second part will include the three historians’ interpretations.
Until this last year, the only hints we had about a Joseph Smith document containing a sampling of pure language was an 1835 letter from William Phelps and, more commonly a later discourse by Orson Pratt. Pratt acknowledged the unknown status of the document, noting that it “is one revelation that people are not generally acquainted with,” and that “it has never been published.” Luckily for us, the text was recently brought out of obscurity when it was found in the recently re-discovered Book of Commandments and Revelations, a manuscript volume that contained many early copies of Joseph Smith’s revelations and was recently published in Revelations and Translations, vol. 1 of the Joseph Smith Papers.
While “A Sample of Pure Language” was recorded around the same time as other Kirtland revelations, for unknown reasons it was not included in any of the published revelatory collections. Its format is similar to D&C 77, yet is more vague and, as a result, complicated. Though many of Joseph Smith’s early revelations came is somewhat of a dialogic context, where Smith would ask a question related to his Bible translation and then receive an answer, the questions in this document do not seem rooted in biblical study. While it seems similar to the Kirtland Egyptian Grammar book that Joseph Smith and William Phelps worked on in 1835-36, it likely predated those activities by several years. Indeed, as is obvious, this document is somewhat of an anomaly, and deserves some attention. It is important to not only understand its context within Joseph Smith’s other early revelations and writings, but also how it exemplified Joseph Smith’s search for a pure Adamic tongue as well as the early developments of Mormon theology.
The Document (As transcribed in Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations Volume 1: Facsimile Revelation Books, page 265, with some of the transcription simplified)
A SAMPLE of pure language
given by Joseph the Seer as copied by Br Johnson
[There is one continuous vertical line which crosses out the Q’s and A’s below]
Question What is the name of God in pure Language
Q The meaning of the pure word Aman
A It is the being which made all things in all its parts.
Q What is the name of the Son of God.
A The Son Awman.
Q What is the Son Awman.
A It is the greatest of all the parts of Awman which is the godhead the first born.
Q What is man.
A This signifies Sons Awman. the human family the children of men the greatest parts of Awman Sons the Son Awman
Q What are Angels called in pure language.
A Awman Angls men
Q What are the meaning of these words.
A Awman’s Ministering servants Sanctified who are sent forth from heaven to minister for or to Sons Awmen the greatest part of Awman Son. Sons Awmen Son Awmen Awman
[End page and end of “Sample of Pure Language”]
[Comments are closed on this post; all comments should be made on Part II]