From the Archives: “A Sample of Pure Language,” Part II (The Interpretations)

By December 21, 2009

[Continued from Part I]

I sincerely appreciate the three respondents participating in this forum. I’m sure all the readers will agree that all three portions are well-written and enlightening.

Although these  three are well-known around the bloggernacle, here are brief introductions: Robin Jensen is an editor for the Joseph Smith Papers Project, recently received his second master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and his name can be found on the cover of the recent Revelations and Translations vol. 1. Samuel Brown is currently an Assistant Professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine and Division Associate, Medical Ethics and Humanities, University of Utah. Jordan Watkins, theoretically a contributor here at JI, is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Robin Jensen, on the document’s textual and revelatory context

I approach the document ?A Sample of Pure Language? found in the manuscript revelation volume ?A Book of Commandments and Revelations? with many questions about its text and context and leave with most still unanswered. But I believe that establishing what we know and don?t know about the creation and history behind a document is critical to understanding the content and meaning of that document. Like many early manuscripts of Joseph Smith?s sacred texts, ?Pure Language? was created with virtually no historical, theological, or compositional context. We?re only provided with the statement ?given by Joseph the Seer as copied by Br Johnson?. It?s easy (though in a few rare cases wrong) to assume that all revelatory texts were created solely by JS, and therefore this statement is useful in tying this text to JS. Many other of Smith?s dictated revelatory texts are richly contextualized due, in large part, to the background associated with those texts when they were first published or especially when they were copied into the 1838?1856 history (the manuscript history). Because ?Pure Language? was not perpetuated in print or the various public histories during JS?s lifetime, reminiscences from eyewitnesses could not be linked to this text. We are left with the short introduction and the text itself.

If the sporadic chronology of the revelations found in ?A Book of Commandments and Revelations? can be trusted, ?Pure Language? was originally created sometime in the beginning of 1832, but we have no explicit date from the manuscript. Except for in a few cases, ?A Book of Commandments and Revelations? is consistently chronological, until it was taken to Missouri where Whitmer received and copied texts into the volume as they came from Ohio, sometimes widely out of chronological order. This is the case with ?Pure Language?; the document was initially created (likely) in Ohio, sent to Missouri, and then copied into the volume, which was maintained in Missouri by John Whitmer. The dates of the revelatory texts surrounding ?Pure Language? are clustered in late 1831 and early 1832, but in no semblance of chronological order. The immediate texts surrounding ?Pure Language? are March 1832 texts, hinting that it is dated ?circa March 1832?. Though he copied the text into the volume, John Whitmer was not present at the creation of the document in Ohio and therefore would not know anything more to add as context as he had done with earlier texts copied into the volume. Textual evidence indicates that this text and the text immediately preceding it (present-day Doctrine and Covenants 77) were copied into the book at the same time, perhaps indicating that they were sent to Missouri in the same letter, which may hint that the two texts were created at the same time period (note: that is an assumption based on an assumption and therefore is rife with difficulties). That other versions of ?Pure Language? circulated is proven by a letter from William W. Phelps to his wife Sally in 1835, which also contains elements of ?Pure Language?, but no other manuscript appearing to be the original document, or other early document, is extant. All of the above is to say that little is known about the textual context of the document either explicit or implicit.

The Question and Answer format of ?Pure Language? is only rarely seen in other early revelatory manuscripts. We understand that many of the revelations or commandments of Joseph Smith were dialogic. But the vast majority of revelation written texts were originally one sided?that is, divine answers to unrecorded questions from Smith or others. Questions were spoken and generally understood when the answer was dictated, but only the answer was captured on paper. ?Pure Language,? along with what is now known as Section 77 (which immediately precedes ?Pure Language? in ?A Book of Commandments and Revelations?) and 113, were recorded with both the questions and the answers. One common characteristic of these three Q&A formatted texts is that they were never published during JS?s lifetime, which may indicate that he felt they were of a different type of revelation or teaching. (Just because a text has religious elements and it was written down doesn?t mean it was a ?revelation? in the early saints? understanding.) Texts with similarly short answers to presumably short questions (though not written) are found in current section 130 and 131 (which were also not canonized during JS?s lifetime), leading me to wonder if the continuity of this type of revelatory teaching was maintained longer throughout JS?s life than the standard revelatory texts which, for the most part, ended in the mid-1830s. One thing, however, seems clear: ?Pure Language? is not easily placed among standard revelation texts and is therefore worthy of our careful study.

Samuel Brown, on the document’s context within Joseph Smith’s quest for pure language

The curse of the Tower of Babel on the Plain of Shinar (Gen. 11) haunted Joseph Smith. In a complex interaction apparently meant to protect the gods against human power, Yahweh ruptured forever humanity?s once pure language. In this primordial language Adam had named the animal creation (Gen. 2:19-20) and written a Book of Remembrance (Moses 6), a sort of archetype for scripture. The Babel narrative, meant to explain the diversity of human languages, to Smith described the alienation at the core of human existence. Pure existence, pure communion, was inaccessible via human language?our access to such existence was mediated, poorly, by language. Smith did not believe in the Platonic forms, rather he displayed a yearning for the unmediated communication that occurred among God, Eve, and Adam in humanity?s first home.

Smith took on the curse of Babel in a variety of ways in his early career. He translated ?reformed? hieroglyphs on gold plates, interpreted the charismatic practice of glossolalia as mystical access to the Adamic pure language, undertook a New Translation of the Authorized Protestant Bible, and decoded the mystical truths hidden behind Egyptian hieroglyphics. When he revealed the sample of pure language in 1832, Smith was actively grappling with the treachery of English as recorded in the Authorized Bible. Through his New Translation Smith was attempting to liberate Scripture itself from the confines of cursed human language. The prospect of actually controlling the pure language of Adam humanized the Apocalypse and empowered the LDS believer. Smith would never set aside this quest to teach his followers this language beyond human language.

*These paragraphs summarize the arguments of Samuel Brown, “Joseph (Smith) in Egypt: Babel, Hieroglyphs, and the Pure Language of Eden,? Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 78, no. 1 (March 2009): 26?65, which also contextualizes the quest for pure language in antebellum intellectual culture.

Jordan Watkins, on the document’s context within early Mormon theology

?Pure Language? can be interpreted in a number of ways, offering a range of theological possibilities. Though primarily evidencing his persistent quest to uncover a prelapsarian ?pure language,? this document also reflects Joseph Smith?s early conception of the relationship between and natures of deity and humanity. ?Pure Language? identifies God as ?the being which made all things in all its parts,? and the Son of God as ?the greatest of all the parts of Awman.? If ?parts? signifies ?creations,? then the Son of God exists as the greatest of all the creations of God, and, combined with the absence of the Holy Ghost in the text, this interpretation recalls the Arian position. If interpreted literally?the Son is part of God?the document seems to reflect a kind of modalism or binatarianism. If the text can be understood to define ?the human family? as literally ?the greatest parts of Awman,? then the resulting theology reflects a monistic and corresponding panentheistic position akin to Emerson?s contemporaneous views.[1] One might argue that the definition of the ?children of men? should be read to include ?Sons,? in which case humans become ?the greatest parts of Awman Sons,? but it seems reasonable to suggest that the last three words in this answer serve as review. In other words, I would describe Smith as explaining, ?we have now defined and explained the terms Sons Awman and Son Awman, now onto angels.? This interpretation, though, is further complicated if applied to the last answer. If the last five words serve as review??Sons Awmen, Son Awmen, Awman??then either ?Ministering servants? or ?Sons Awmen? become ?the greatest part of Awman Son,? suggesting, perhaps, that either the Son of God created Angels or humans, or that Angels or humans are literally ?the greatest part of? the Son of God.[2] The latter interpretation still suggests a theological monism and panentheism, but also implies a hierarchical structure. In this interpretation, ?Pure Language? rejects creation ex nihilo, and though it does not necessarily eliminate the ontological divide between the human family and God, it certainly reconceptualizes the traditional Christian view of divine distance. I am leery of imposing what may be a later ideology on ?Pure Language,? but viewed in light of the development of early Mormon theology the document seems to contain ideas that became central to Mormon conceptions of theosis, best traced in the writings of Parley P. Pratt.

Gauging the theological impact and use of ?Pure Language? presents fewer difficulties than analyzing the text as a reflection of Smith?s early theology. Probably very few contemporaries saw or knew of the revelation, and fewer deemed the text theologically significant. Six years later, however, in what seems to be the first noncanonical LDS publication containing an idea of theosis, Parley P. Pratt used rhetoric similar to ?Pure Language.? Pratt explained that God possessed all truth, and thus contained all knowledge, which made him the all-powerful God. According to Pratt, through the Spirit, God?s followers could also obtain all truth, and become equal with God in knowledge and power. In this process, Pratt wrote, ?the redeemed return to the fountain, and become part of the great all, from which they eminated.?[3] In Pratt?s 1838 view, humans ?eminated? from God, and thus experienced an apparent spatial separation in creation, but through redemption, they could return and become part of God. Pratt rarely, if ever again, used this language in formulating his conception of theosis. More significantly, in 1855 Orson Pratt cited ?Pure Language,? and interpreted and used it in light of his particular, and increasingly unpopular, view of the Great God. With respect to Sons Ahman, Orson concluded that ?these intelligent beings are all parts of God, and that those who have the most of the parts of God are the greatest?[and] wherever a great amount of this intelligent Spirit exists, there is a great amount or proportion of God, which may grow and increase until there is a fulness of this Spirit, and then there is a fulness of God.? By this point Orson had equated the Holy Spirit, which he conceived of as an inexhaustible amount of intelligent particles existing throughout the universe, with the Great God. Ahman, for Pratt, was this Great God, and so, intelligences had achieved or could achieve Godhood only through interacting with, and allowing the indwelling presence of, the Holy Spirit.[4] Orson seems to have developed his theology independent of ?Pure Language,? but he certainly felt that it vindicated his view.

It should be clear by now that I do not know what to make of ?Pure Language? as a theological reflection of early Mormon thought. Other interpretations and analyses may clarify the meaning of this text and highlight its theological significance. For now, the text seems to add to the already eclectic theology of early Mormonism and perhaps can be included in attempts to trace the development of early Mormonism?s more radical ideas.


[1] On Emerson?s monistic and panentheistic views, see, for example, Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 12, Natural History of Intellect, and Other Papers (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903-1904), 17, [database online]; available from, accessed on November 5, 2009; Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 3, ed. by Ronald A. Bosco (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1990), 125; Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume 2: 1836-1838, edited by Stephen E. Whicher, and Robert E. Spiller, and Wallace E. Williams (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, The Belknap Press, 1964), 17; and Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 4, ed. by Wesley T. Mott (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1992), 175.

[2] If the last six words serve as review and can be removed to clarify the answer?s meaning, then the text reads, ?Awman?s Ministering servants Sanctified who are sent forth from heaven to minister for or to Sons Awmen the greatest part of Awman,? in which case servants or Sons Awmen hold a similar relationship to God as does the Son of God ?the greatest of all the parts of Awman.? ?Part of Awman,? in this answer, instead of ?parts of Awman? supports the idea that these phrases should be interpreted literally. Replacing ?part? with ?creation? does not seem to fit: ?the greatest creation of Awman.? But until further textual analysis is done, and because ?Pure Language? is full of grammatical impurities, drawing any definite conclusions seems foolhardy.

[3] Parley P. Pratt, Mormonism unveiled: Zion?s Watchman unmasked, and its editor, Mr. L. R. Sunderland, exposed: truth vindicated: the Devil mad, and priestcraft in danger! By P. P. Pratt, minister of the gospel, 3d. ed. (New York: Published by O. Pratt & E. Fordham, 1838), 27.

[4] Orson Pratt, ?The Holy Spirit and the Godhead,? in The Essential Orson Pratt (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1991), 357.

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Origins Cultural History Intellectual History Theology


  1. […] are closed on this post; all comments should be made on Part II] Comments (0) […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » From the Archives: “A Sample of Pure Language,” Part I (The Text) — December 21, 2009 @ 5:13 am

  2. I’d have a hard time interpreting that modalistically where the different persons are just modes of God. This has them being parts of God – closer to Orson Pratt’s view than anything.

    Question – when did Awman get turned into Ahman in popular reprints of this?

    What’s so weird about this is that other than the word Awman there’s no “pure language” to it: it’s all English added to the word. Reminds me more of his etymology of Morman = More Good. i.e. I half wonder if a lot of it is tongue in cheek.

    Comment by Clark — December 21, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

  3. Clark, the theology underlying the revelation is rather complex and poorly outlined. I agree that this doesn’t seem to support modalism per se.
    Contextually, I think the satirical reading is entirely wrong.
    Ahman was used for all publications of which I’m aware. Awman seems to have been the preference of this particular scribe.

    Comment by smb — December 21, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

  4. Question ? when did Awman get turned into Ahman in popular reprints of this?

    Great question. It looks like D&C 78 (1 March 1832), which was likely received around the same time (it actually follows the “Sample” in Book of Commandments and Revelations), might give a hint. The original text included: “wherefore do the things which I have commanded you saith your Reedeemer even Jesus Christ who prepareth all things…” William Phelps, perhaps when revising the revelation for the Book of Commandments, crossed out “Jesus Christ” and inserted “the Son Ahman”. D&C 95 (1 June 1833) still included the spelling “Awman,” so it was likely after that. Maybe Robin can give more insight. (Perhaps John Whitmer just preferred “Awman”.

    I half wonder if a lot of it is tongue in cheek.

    I don’t get that at all.

    Comment by Ben — December 21, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

  5. Thanks for the write-up.

    The scribe for JS’s 1838 journal frequently used “Adam Ondi Awman” and John Corrill used “adamondiawman.”

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 21, 2009 @ 1:18 pm

  6. It is actually not clear the exact spelling or sequence of editing of “Awman” in the “Book of Commandments and Revelations”. It seems that it was consistently first written “Awmen”. However, someone (possibly John Whitmer) went back later and edited it to either read “Awman” or “Awmon”.

    In saying that, I wouldn’t get too caught up in the spelling of this particular manuscript as being the “correct” spelling. This text was likely originally dictated and subsequently copied in a day when (depending on the scribe) careful attention to copying the spelling of words was not obsessed over. Inherent in all dictated texts is the imperfect nature of capturing spelling–especially when spelling an unfamiliar term like a name (for a fun activity, browse through the census of this time period and see the unique ways census-takers captured spellings of surnames).

    As above suggested, “Ahman” was inserted into D&C 78 (p. 146 of the BCR) by Phelps (for the 1835 publication actually), who also spells the term that way in the 1835 letter to his wife. As J. mentioned, JS’s 1838 scribe (George Robinson) consistently spells it “Awman” (although sometimes adding an “e” in place of the 2nd “a”). But JS’s 1835-36 journal has it spelled “Ahman” (Parrish being the scribe for both times it appears).

    Unfortunately, I don’t have time to explore all spellings in other manuscripts, but I doubt we could prove the early establishment of a textual spelling dependency. For one thing, there aren’t that many instances to establish a large enough sample. But even if that were the case, I am still left wondering what it would prove. I would still argue most people spelled the term how they thought it sounded, not necessarily following previous cases.

    Comment by Robin Jensen — December 21, 2009 @ 2:08 pm

  7. Rob to the rescue!

    Comment by Ben — December 21, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

  8. I’m interested in teasing out the theological meaning of this text a little more. Like Jordan, I am hesitant in tethering later doctrinal developments back to this texts, yet I feel forced to think that there must be something here that appealed to Joseph Smith and the early Saints. Does anyone see this fitting in with early Mormon theology, besides the Pratt brothers’ later teachings of the Holy Spirit?

    Or, could it be that its overall vagueness and inability to clearly mesh with Mormon thought led to it not being included in The Book of Commandments or Doctrine and Covenants? Its exclusion definitely brings up interesting questions.

    Comment by Ben — December 21, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

  9. Its exclusion definitely brings up interesting questions.

    And its inclusion in the Book of Commandments and Revelations has important implications as well…implications we can’t ignore. This was, after all, written down as opposed to suffering the fate of countless other teachings/speculations by JS not written down. Someone felt that this particular gem had reason to be captured and preserved on paper.

    Comment by Robin Jensen — December 21, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

  10. My first impression is that the “Sample of Pure Language” is of most significance to questions of semiotics, such as how Joseph Smith understood translation.

    “Sample” doesn’t seem to me to be purely verbal. That is, it feels more like the verbal record of an interaction where meaning was imparted in other ways as well. Note the question-answer pair “What is man? This signifies…” What is the referent of ‘this’? Perhaps merely the word ‘man,’ but then why embed the answer in a discussion of language? Perhaps the referent of ‘this’ is something–an image, a diagram, who knows–that is not itself preserved in the sample. Reading the “Sample of Pure Language” feels like we’re overhearing two people hunched over a map and talking to each other, but we don’t see the map itself.

    The other thing I notice is that Joseph Smith’s “Sample” has very little to say about phonetic difference except for the word “Ahman.” Instead, the questions and answers are all about the structure of semantic meaning. “Sample” ends with a semantic articulation of “angel” all the way up the chain from man to the Son to God. The “Sample” is not how a perfect language sounds, but how its words relate to each other. If I were to start drawing connections, the first thing that comes to mind are the interpretations of the facsimiles in the Book of Abraham.

    In any case, this is fascinating stuff, and thanks for posting this and organizing the responses.

    Comment by Jonathan Green — December 21, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

  11. Thanks for chipping in, Jonathan; very interesting insights.

    Comment by Ben — December 21, 2009 @ 5:09 pm

  12. Theologically it reminds me of Moses most with its creationism that is somewhat foreign to the later Book of Abraham inspired rejections of creation ex nihilo.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 21, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

  13. Robin mentioned the existence of “another version” of this in an 1835 letter from W. W. Phelps to his wife Sally. What he did not mention, however, was that the version in Phelps’ letter, while clearly based on the Sample, adds some additional elements. It provides the actual Adamic hieroglyphs that correspond to each word, and also provides what appears to be a phonetic valuation for each character in addition to the word itself. An additional word not found in the Sample is added, as well.

    Perhaps more importantly, the same four-column format and the same sequence of symbols that appeared in the “specimen” in 1835 were also utilized in the “Egyptian Alphabet” (associated with the Book of Abraham papyri), created a couple months later. The 1835 “specimen” thus appears to be a transitional stage between the “Sample” and the “Egyptian Alphabet”. It’s worth adding that since the copy of the “specimen” in Phelps’ letter was mailed off to his wife in Missouri, it seems that there must have been another copy (probably the original dictation copy) that was retained by the Kirtland brethren. Otherwise it would not have been available for incorporation into the Alphabet shortly thereafter. This other copy unfortunately seems to be lost to history.

    Those who are interested in the connections between these documents would do well to read Sam Brown’s Church History article, cited at the end of Sam’s response in the OP above. Sam provides important interpretive context and in my opinion does an excellent job of documenting Joseph Smith’s interesting in restoring the purity of language that was lost at Babel. He does not seem, however, to have been aware of the 1835 “specimen” at the time of writing. For more on this document and its connections to the Sample and Alphabet, see my paper “The Dependence of Abraham 1:1-3 on the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar” in the most recent issue of the JWHA Journal, and/or the very lengthy discussion thread at MADB where I was able to go into much greater detail about the difficult text-critical issues involved.

    Comment by Chris Smith — December 25, 2009 @ 5:51 am

  14. Chris, that is one bizarre bulletin board conversation–too bad there isn’t a filter that allows one to review useful content only. I kept waiting for someone to start kick-boxing.

    Can you email me a PDF of your published article?
    I agree that the Phelps letter is important for the reception history of the ca. 1832 revelation and that the Egyptian project deserves to be situated in Smith’s quest for pure language. I’d be cautious about being too reductionistic in describing the complex nature of collaborative authorship in Smith’s linguistic writings as well as the development of his mechanistic approaches to translation.

    A minor point, in response to the bulletin board conversation, is that my interpretation does not require any specific temporal relationship among the components of the Egyptian project. I took no stand on the question of whether BoA comes before, after, or concurrent with the formally linguistic elements of the project.

    Comment by smb — December 25, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

  15. Hey Sam,

    Yes, having meaningful conversations on message boards generally requires a lot of filtering. Believe it or not, it’s actually useful for me to engage people who stridently oppose my views, because they force me to think very deeply about things, and to systematically defend every aspect of my argument no matter how self-evident it seems to me. There were good insights that came out of that conversation, but I will probably have to publish a reader’s digest version at some later date before they can be much use to anyone else!

    I’ll send you a copy of my article, but it will be in Word rather than PDF. I don’t have a scanned copy at present.



    Comment by Chris Smith — December 25, 2009 @ 11:11 pm

  16. Chris, interacting with critics is useful–a readers digest version should include both sides. The incoherent vitriol is the problem–it’s a taxing wade-through when you’re busy.

    You should be able to get a pdf from the journal/editors.

    Comment by smb — December 26, 2009 @ 12:34 am

  17. I’ve mostly avoided the boards lately for precisely that reason: I just don’t have time to deal with all the empty vitriol, and I have yet to see a board that’s genuinely well-moderated. But I still have a fondness for the boards for the simple reason that they provide an opportunity for more personal connection with other people than peer-reviewed journals or even blogs can ever really offer. It’s true that some of my sharpest and most personal disagreements with people have been on the boards, but on the other hand I have also made some very close and knowledgeable friends there. I have had two very promising collaborative research projects emerge from relationships and discussions at MADB. So the boards are a wonderful networking tool, even if the cost in time and personal frustration is ultimately pretty steep.

    Comment by Chris Smith — December 26, 2009 @ 5:32 am

  18. Chris, that’s very interesting that there’s another version, and that it includes hieroglyphs. That’s what I was guessing might have been the case in my comment above, and it’s nice to see that guess backed up by some actual evidence.

    Comment by Jonathan Green — December 26, 2009 @ 7:52 pm

  19. Hey Jonathan,

    Your suggestion is interesting, but I don’t think I agree with it. The “specimen” version is not known until late May of 1835. I am inclined to think that that is when it was created, and that there were no characters associated with the 1832 version. When the Sample says “This signifies…”, I think it’s referring back to the English word “man” in the question just asked. The phrasing is odd, it’s true, but the referent seems pretty clear from the context.



    Comment by Chris Smith — December 26, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

  20. Jonathan, I concur with Chris apropros timing of association with glyphs on the basis of the current evidence–the 1832 revelation did not seem to have specific glyphs in mind.

    Comment by smb — December 26, 2009 @ 10:19 pm

  21. Joe Sampson points out that both O. Pratt’s reference to “unfolding” and the structure of the revelation are reminiscent of kabalistic practice.

    Comment by Travis — December 31, 2009 @ 12:35 pm

  22. Chris and Sam, my speculation that a prior version of the document contained a graphic element (for example, hieroglyphs) remains, of course, speculative. That being said, a graphic element would resolve some of the document’s apparent strangeness, and the 1835 version provides evidence that transmission along with hieroglyphs did in fact take place. Whether those glyphs were part of the original or a later addition is quite another question, of course, but the three-year difference in age of the manuscript witnesses is pretty weak evidence that the 1832 ‘Sample’ more accurately reflects the original. So one has to explain either why the copyist omitted the hieroglyphs from the revelation book, or why W.W. Phelps would add them by his own authority. Personally, I find it somewhat more likely that the hieroglyphs were in the original (omitting images during copying is hardly unknown). Is W.W. Phelps’s letter published anywhere?

    Comment by Jonathan Green — January 4, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

  23. Jonathan,

    Nobody, I think, is suggesting that W. W. Phelps added the characters on his own authority. Quite to the contrary, I think that JS almost certainly directed the effort. The specimen was copied into Phelps’s letter during the timeframe when Smith, Phelps, and Cowdery were going through the manuscript revelation books and making revisions and doing typesetting for the 1835 D&C. I suspect that the “specimen” was a revision of the “sample”, and was first produced during this period. Furthermore, the conceptual similarity between the May, 1835 “specimen” and the July, 1835 Egyptian Alphabet accords very well with their apparent temporal proximity.

    In the letter that contains the specimen, Phelps promises to “give you [that is, his wife Sally] whatever new thing comes to hand for you know I always love to gratify \you/ with choice things from the Lord.” This implies that the things Phelps forwarded in this letter– the specimen and the first six forms of the D&C– were both “new” and “from the Lord” (i.e. from Joseph Smith).

    Anyway, these are a few of the reasons I suspect an 1835 date for the specimen. You’re of course correct that it’s very difficult to prove a negative. But in addition to the points I made above, it should be noted that absence of evidence is itself a kind of evidence (the popular proverb to the contrary notwithstanding). Unless strong reasons can be given for dating the specimen several years prior to its appearance in the historical record, I think that the 1835 date will have to stand as the most probable one.

    You can see an image of the specimen here.

    Comment by Chris Smith — January 4, 2010 @ 8:20 pm


Recent Comments

J. Stapley on A note on the: “Have you seen anything like on this side of the Atlantic, Steve?”

Steve Fleming on A note on the: “My footnote to patriarchal blessings: Such blessings of parents to children were also a medieval and early modern folk practice. Keith Thomas refers to the practice,…”

J. Stapley on A note on the: “Thanks John. I hadn't thought of that and some googling around suggests that it is a thing. Methodist back to school…”

John Turner on A note on the: “Great post, Jonathan. I wonder how common similar rituals are in other traditions. For instance, I can imagine that many evangelical parents -- and even…”

J. Stapley on A note on the: “A bit of an addendum, now that I have had a chance to research some more. The 1976 General Handbook included a quote from…”

J. Stapley on A note on the: “Thanks for that pointer, Clark. If I've done my math and sleuthing correctly, that would put that story in the late 1960s or early…”