A Textual History of the BoA

In college post-mish as I was studying biblical languages I gained an interest in the subject of textual criticism. I never had a class in it, but I remember spending a lot of time in the library reading about it, which I’ve followed up with additional readings since, such as Metzger, Aland, Ehrman, Wurthwein and Tov. Even then, as a young student, the thought occurred to me that someone needed to do this kind of work for our modern LDS scriptures. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one to have thoughts along these lines, as in recent years a great deal of text critical work has been done for our LDS scriptures. The gold standard is what Royal Skousen has done over the last two decades with the BoM. The JST now exists in a very large critical edition. The D&C isn’t there yet, but with the ongoing work of the JSPP it will get there.

The latest entry in this type of study tool is Brian M. Hauglid, A Textual History of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions (Provo: Maxwell Institute, 2010), volume 5 in the Studies in the Book of Abraham series.

Let me avoid the suspense by saying upfront that this is a terrific volume. I found it to be very well organized and executed.

The book begins with a history of the BoA. In describing the work of translation, Hauglid is careful to rely on various journal and other records and not make unsupported assumptions. He proposes a new system of identification of the BoA manuscripts, which if widely adopted will help to avoid some of the confusion in the old labels. He then gives a kind of verbal stemma with his understanding of the genetic relationships among the BoA mss. He believes that the oldest mss. we have were visually copied from a lost ur-text rather than created at the same time by simultaneous dictation, and articulates evidence for that view (I’m sure the counterargument will be forthcoming in some venue).

Next is an historical text of the BoA. This is not an eclectic text, but rather based on the T&S publication. Footnotes are then used to identify all variants in the mss., published editions and Kirtland Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar mss. (a complete record of the latter is set forth in Appendix 2). The sigla used are the same as those used in the JSPP (Robin Jensen verified the transcriptions), so there is a certain consistency with the documentary editing standards being used in that much larger project.

Next come presentations of the six Ab mss. and the Appleby journal entry. Each begins with an introduction detailing issues of provenance, paper, ink, scribes, and so forth. Then there are gray-scale images of the mss. with facing page transcriptions.

There are five appendices:

1 is a timeline of the translation and publication of the BoA.

2 identifies all the places in the Egyptian alphabet and grammar mss. that have text used in the BoA. (It would have been too big a job to include the actual alphabet and grammar mss. in this publication; they are being edited for a separate publication in a future volume of the series.)

3 is a set of complete color images of all the mss, as well as the lead plates used to print the three facsimiles (very cool!).

4 contains images from the Appleby journal.

5 contains images from Talmage’s 1888 edition of the BoA showing his mark up of the text for the then new edition he was preparing (also very cool!).

Brian is a friend, an excellent scholar and a really good guy. I’m pleased to report that this latest contribution to our corpus of critical editions is a worthy addition, and a must for serious students of the BoA.

For another review, see here and for a podcast interview, see here.


  1. dltayman says:

    So many important books, so little money.

  2. i dont really get what this is you are explaining. a new book? just reprints of handwritten documents?

  3. Thanks for the review, Kev. I appreciate it. I didn’t know that Robin worked on this. I wonder what crossover there will be in the JSPP.

  4. Thanks Kevin. I’d love to see the Talmage mark up!

  5. This is really important stuff. Thanks for the review, Kevin.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    hmm, a critical text is an attempt to recover, to the greatest extent possible, the original text of a document. In the case of the BoA this is done by presenting and studying a half-dozen handwritten manuscripts (none of which is complete), a half-dozen printed editions, and related documents mostly from the Kirtland period attempting to present an Egyptian alphabet and grammar. It is a scholar’s tool, and not necessary for casual readers of the book.

  7. What I find interesting is that Joseph Smith never claimed the BoA to actually be the BoA. In its first printing, it’s introduced as the “purported Book of Abraham.”

  8. Joe Geisner says:

    “The D&C isn’t there yet, but with the ongoing work of the JSPP it will get there.”

    Have you not read “The Joseph Smith Revelations: Text and Commentary”?

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Sure, Joe, but that’s only a portion of the D&C. The combination of that book and the dissertation (which needs updating) gets us much of the way there, but there is no critical edition of the D&C as a whole yet. I believe there will be one of these days.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Oh, wait, I assumed you were talking about the JSPP volume; did you mean Marquardt’s book? If so, the answer is no, I haven’t read it, but from the reviews I’ve seen I don’t think it’s an exhaustive critical edition of the D&C as a whole. But that’s just my impression, I’d be happy to be corrected.

  11. The Marquardt book is a fantastic resource, but it’s not a critical text. He included transcriptions of the earliest extant manuscripts of the revelations then available to him, transcriptions of major changes between the manuscripts and the Book of Commandment/1835 Doctrine and Covenants, and added some commentary. Since it was published prior to the JSP’s Facsimile Edition of the Book of Commandments and Revelations, Marquardt’s book doesn’t have those earlier manuscripts, and therefore is dated. But I still find it to be an excellent resource, especially when I don’t want to lug around the heavy JSP volume.

  12. Joe Geisner says:

    David is correct, in the purist sense, Marquardt’s book is not a critical text any more that Scott Faulring and Kent Jackson’s excellent work on the original JST manuscript or Brian’s excellent work on the BoA manuscripts. But they are works on Textual history and seek to bring us closest to the original text.

    What is great about Marquardt’s work is, even with the publication of the BCR, it has for the most part validated Marquart’s commentary and text.

    I will also add one other book to your list: “The Book Of Moses And The Joseph Smith Translation Manuscripts” by Kent Jackson. It is an excellent work.

  13. Thanks for the cap tip, Kevin. I enjoyed reading your remarks here.

  14. Great book indeed! I was only disappointed that Brent Metcalfe wasn’t mentioned in the acknowledgements

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