I want to say to you, read the book, the Pearl of Great Price, and read the Book of Abraham. The Pearl of Great Price I hold to be one of the most intelligent, one of the most religious books that the world has ever had; but more than that, to me the Pearl of Great Price is true in its name. It contains an ideal of life that is higher and grander and more glorious than I think is found in the pages of any other book unless it be the Holy Bible. It behooves us to read these things, understand them: and I thank God when they are attacked, because it brings to me, after a study and thought, back to the fact that what God has given He has given, and He has nothing to retract." - Levi Edgar Young, Conference Report (April 1913), 74

"...it must be evident to all who seriously consider the matter, that if the Book of Abraham as given to us by Joseph Smith be true, it must have been translated by a greater than human power." - George Reynolds, The Book of Abraham: Its Authenticity Established as a Divine and Ancient Record (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1879), 4

Monday, February 13, 2012

Josiah Quincy and The Book of Abraham

Josiah Quincy, Jr., Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts, from 1845-1849, is occasionally cited by Latter-day Saints for his profound statement regarding future American history and the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Quincy predicted that future history books might rightly assert that among 19th century Americans, Joseph Smith, Jr. exerted the most powerful influence upon the destinies of his countrymen than any other figure.1  Quincy had visited Nauvoo in mid-April 1844 with his distant cousin Charles Francis Adams, Sr. (son of U.S. President John Quincy Adams). While in Nauvoo, they viewed the papyri and mummies and both made note of the occasion, although Quincy was more extensive in his documentation. 

Almost forty years after visiting Nauvoo, Quincy drafted a book entitled Figures of the Past, which was based on journal entries from his extensive diaries, letters, and personal reminiscences.  He acknowledged that there was heavy editing involved preparatory to publication, and records that, "my narratives have gained in grace of expression as they passed beneath the correcting pen of my obliging critic, and I am confident that a stern exercise of his right of curtailing reflections and omitting incidents has been no less for the reader's advantage."  The former Mayor also believed that the collection of papers used in compiling his book "should convey the contemporary impressions made by events and persons they describe, and that all imperfected memories or unauthenticated anecdotes should be distinctly so designated."2  Whether he was satisfied with the editing performed in the final draft or not is uncertain since the book was published posthumously. 

The degree of accuracy of Quincy's book, based on his journals, letters, and memories, cannot wholly be ascertained, especially since the whereabouts of the journals and most letters are unknown.3  Josiah notes that his account of Nauvoo and Joseph Smith was based on ten "closely written" pages of journal entries and letters to his friends in Boston.4  It is uncertain whether his journal entries were recorded while in Nauvoo, or subsequently, or how accurately he documented what he experienced.  In either case, while roughly contemporary with the events that occurred, Josiah Quincy definitely did not document everything accurately, since he provides the only account of the mummies and papyrus being purchased for $6,000, and that, from Lucy Mack Smith's own funds.  The actual purchase price was for $2,400, and was funded by Joseph Coe, Simeon Andrews, Joseph Smith, and others.5  This is also the only account with a reference to writings from Moses and Aaron on the papyri.  Accordingly, the degree of accuracy of Quincy's details documented in his book should be accepted with reluctancy.

Jed Woodworth published the text of a letter written by Josiah Quincy to his wife on May 16, 1844, the day after Quincy met the Prophet.  In his letter, Quincy notes that on May 15th he and Adams had "...passed the whole day in his [Joseph's] society, & had one of the most extraordinary conversations I ever participated in, he preached to us, prophesied for us, interpreted hieroglyphics for us, exhibited his mummies and took us to his temple which he is now erecting on a most majestic site of hewn stone."6

1 Josiah Quincy, Jr., Figures of the Past From the Leaves of Old Journals (Boston, MA: Roberts Brothers, 1883), 376
2 Ibid, v-vi
3 Jed Woodworth, "Josiah Quincy's 1844 Visit with Joseph Smith," BYU Studies 39/4 (2000):72
4 Quincy, Figures of the Past, 378
5 H. Donl Peterson, The Story of the Book of Abraham: Mummies, Manuscripts, and Mormonism (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company, 1995), 5
6 Woodworth, "Josiah Quincy's 1844 Visit with Joseph Smith," 86-87

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