In 1851, Elder Franklin D. Richards, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the president of the British Mission, published several revelations, translations, and writings of Joseph Smith and called the collection the Pearl of Great Price. During a general conference of the Church in October 1880, the Church accepted the Pearl of Great Price as scripture—part of the standard works. “The Pearl of Great Price is a selection of choice materials touching many significant aspects of the faith and doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Introduction to the Pearl of Great Price).
Suggestions for Teaching
The coming forth of the Pearl of Great Price
Show or draw a picture of a pearl. Ask students if they know how pearls are made. If they do not know, explain that a pearl is produced inside an oyster as the oyster responds to the irritation of foreign matter, such as a grain of sand. The oyster produces a substance to surround the grain, which eventually forms a pearl. Natural pearls are rare and are considered precious.
Explain that today students will learn about the origin of the book of scripture titled the Pearl of Great Price. They will discover some reasons the Pearl of Great Price is precious.
Invite a student to read aloud the first paragraph in the introduction to the Pearl of Great Price. Ask the class to look for what is contained in the Pearl of Great Price. Before they read, you may want to explain that the word periodicals refers to newspapers or magazines—publications that are distributed periodically, such as daily, weekly, or monthly.
In what ways do you think the Pearl of Great Price is rare and precious?
Invite a student to read the second paragraph of the introduction aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for why the Pearl of Great Price was compiled. Invite them to report what they find.
Summarize the third paragraph of the introduction by explaining that since the first printing of the Pearl of Great Price, some content has been added or moved. Some of its content was added and later moved to the Doctrine and Covenants.
Invite a student to read aloud the paragraph beginning with the phrase “Selections from the Book of Moses.” Ask the class to look for how Joseph Smith received the revelations in this book.
Invite students to scan the book of Moses and find at least one verse that contains a truth they consider precious. After sufficient time, ask students to share their verses with partners or with the entire class.
Ask students to go back to the introduction to the Pearl of Great Price. Invite a student to read aloud the paragraph beginning with the phrase “The Book of Abraham.” Ask the class to follow along and look for how Joseph Smith received the writings in the book of Abraham. Invite students to report what they find.
To help explain how Joseph Smith obtained the ancient writings in the book of Abraham, either read or invite a student to read the following:
“On 3 July 1835 a man named Michael Chandler brought four Egyptian mummies and several papyrus scrolls of ancient Egyptian writings to Kirtland, Ohio. The mummies and papyri had been discovered in Egypt several years earlier by Antonio Lebolo. Kirtland was one of many stops in the eastern United States for Chandler’s mummy exhibition. Chandler was offering the mummies and rolls of papyrus for sale and, at the urging of the Prophet Joseph Smith, several members of the Church donated money to purchase them. In a statement dated 5 July 1835, Joseph Smith, declaring the importance of these ancient Egyptian writings, recorded: ‘I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham. … Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth’ (History of the Church, 2:236)” (The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2000], 28).
Some have wondered how the Prophet translated the ancient writings. Explain that “the Prophet Joseph Smith never communicated his method of translating these records. As with all other scriptures, a testimony of the truthfulness of these writings is primarily a matter of faith. The greatest evidence of the truthfulness of the book of Abraham is not found in an analysis of physical evidence nor historical background, but in prayerful consideration of its content and power” (The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, 28). Although we do not know the exact method Joseph Smith used to translate the writings, we do know that he translated the book of Abraham by the gift and power of God.
Why is it important to obtain a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the book of Abraham?
For the following portion of the lesson, consider inviting two students to come to the front of the classroom and role-play a news reporter interviewing a scholar who has dedicated a great deal of study to the content and origins of the books in the Pearl of Great Price. Ask them to read the following script:
Why did Joseph Smith say he had translated the writings of Abraham even though the manuscripts do not date from Abraham’s time?
The Prophet Joseph Smith never claimed the papyri were indeed the writings of Abraham. He said the book of Abraham was “a translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catecombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt” (Times and Seasons, Mar. 1, 1842, 704).
“In 1966 eleven fragments of papyri once possessed by the Prophet Joseph Smith were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They were given to the Church and have been analyzed by scholars who date them between about 100 B.C. and A.D. 100. A common objection to the authenticity of the book of Abraham is that the manuscripts are not old enough to have been written by Abraham, who lived almost two thousand years before Christ. Joseph Smith never claimed that the papyri were autographic (written by Abraham himself), nor that they dated from the time of Abraham. It is common to refer to an author’s works as ‘his’ writings, whether he penned them himself, dictated them to others, or others copied his writings later” (The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, 28).
What did Joseph Smith do with his translation?
“The book of Abraham was originally published a few excerpts at a time in Times and Seasons, a Church publication, beginning in March 1842 at Nauvoo, Illinois (see [the introduction] at the beginning of the Pearl of Great Price). The Prophet Joseph Smith indicated that he would publish more of the book of Abraham later, but he was martyred before he was able to do so. Concerning the potential length of the completed translation, Oliver Cowdery once said that ‘volumes’ would be necessary to contain it (see Messenger and Advocate, Dec. 1835, 236).
“In addition to hieroglyphic writings, the manuscript also contained Egyptian drawings. On 23 February 1842, the Prophet Joseph Smith asked Reuben Hedlock, a professional wood engraver and member of the Church, to prepare woodcuts of three of those drawings so they could be printed. Hedlock finished the engravings in one week, and Joseph Smith published the copies (facsimiles) along with the book of Abraham. Joseph Smith’s explanations of the drawings accompany the facsimiles” (The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, 28–29).
What happened to the mummies and the papyri?
“After the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the four mummies and the papyri became the property of Joseph’s widowed mother, Lucy Mack Smith” (The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, 29). After Lucy Mack Smith died, the collection was sold to a man named Abel Combs. The collection may have been sold by Joseph Smith’s wife Emma, or it may have been sold by his brother William. Mr. Combs sold some of the collection to a museum in St. Louis, Missouri. He retained other portions and later gave some of them away. (See The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, 29; H. Donl Peterson, The Story of the Book of Abraham: Mummies, Manuscripts, and Mormonism , 204–9, 257.)
“Several theories have been offered regarding what happened … to the mummies and the papyri. It appears that at least two of the mummies were burned in the great Chicago fire of 1871 (see B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 vols. [1909–11], 2:380–382).
“In the early spring of 1966, Dr. Aziz S. Atiya, a University of Utah professor, [brought to the attention of the Church several fragments of the Joseph Smith papyri that were located] at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. These fragments were presented to the Church by the director of the museum on 27 November 1967. The current whereabouts of the other mummies and the other portions of the papyri are unknown [see H. Donl Peterson, “Some Joseph Smith Papyri Rediscovered (1967),” in Studies in Scripture, Volume Two: The Pearl of Great Price, ed. Robert L. Millett and Kent P. Jackson (1985), 183–85]” (The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, 29).
Invite students to scan the book of Abraham and find at least one verse they consider precious. After sufficient time, invite students to share their verses with partners or the entire class.
Ask students to go back to the introduction. Invite a student to read aloud the paragraph beginning with the phrase “Joseph Smith—Matthew.” Ask the class to follow along and look for how Joseph Smith received this revelation. Invite students to report their findings.
Explain that one reason Joseph Smith—Matthew is precious is that it contains one of the Savior’s discourses on the Second Coming.
Invite a student to read aloud the paragraph beginning with the phrase “Joseph Smith—History.” Ask the class to follow along to find out when Joseph Smith prepared this history.
Invite students to scan Joseph Smith—History and find at least one verse they consider precious. After sufficient time, invite students to share the verses with partners or the entire class.
Invite students to imagine that a friend asks them to explain the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in two minutes. Ask the class to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals how they would respond. After a few minutes, invite a couple of students to read what they have written.
Point out that the Articles of Faith provide a good summary of our beliefs. To help students understand the origin of the Articles of Faith, explain that on March 1, 1842, the Prophet Joseph Smith responded to a request from John Wentworth, a newspaper editor, to provide information about himself and the history and beliefs of the Church. This is commonly known as the Wentworth Letter. In it, Joseph declared 13 fundamental principles of the gospel. These beliefs have been included in the Pearl of Great Price as the Articles of Faith. Although they are not a statement of all of our beliefs, they are an important set of doctrines and principles.
Divide students into pairs. Assign each pair at least one article of faith. (Based on students’ needs and the size of your class, you may assign each partnership one or more articles of faith.) Ask each pair to read their assigned article of faith and follow the directions below. You may want to make copies of these directions or write them on the board. Students may follow these directions in their class notebooks or scripture study journals.
After reading your assigned article of faith, write in your own words the doctrine or principle it teaches.
Find a scripture that supports or explains the doctrine or principle in your assigned article of faith. Write insights the scripture adds to your understanding of this principle.
List ways that understanding and believing this article of faith might bring blessings into someone’s life.
After students have had enough time to complete their assignment, invite them to report what they have written. You may want to write some of the truths they identify on the board.
Why are the Articles of Faith precious to you?
Invite students to share experiences they have had when the Articles of Faith or the truths they contain have helped them explain the gospel to someone. You might also want to share an experience of your own.
Challenge students to study and memorize the Articles of Faith. You might use one of the memorizing activities found in the appendix of this manual to help students memorize one of the Articles of Faith as a class. Encourage students to use their knowledge of the Articles of Faith as they explain their beliefs to others.
Write the following incomplete statement on the board: The Pearl of Great Price is evidence that Joseph Smith was a …
What does the existence of the precious truths in the Pearl of Great Price teach us about Joseph Smith? (Complete the truth on the board as follows: The Pearl of Great Price is evidence that Joseph Smith was a prophet, seer, and revelator.)
In what ways do you think the Pearl of Great Price is evidence of Joseph Smith’s calling as a prophet?
Testify that the Pearl of Great Price is evidence that Joseph Smith is a prophet, seer, and revelator. This book teaches us valuable truths about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
On the board, write some of the Basic Doctrines listed in the appendix of this manual. Divide students into pairs, and ask students to explain one of the doctrines to their partners using their own words and the words of related scripture mastery passages. You might consider inviting students to play the part of missionaries and do some of the following as they teach each other:
Share their experiences with the doctrine.
Share their testimonies of the doctrine.
Ask questions to find out how well their partner understands the doctrine.
Invite their partner to act on the doctrine.
Commentary and Background Information
The book of Abraham: evidence of Joseph Smith’s divine calling
“The book of Abraham is an evidence of the inspired calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It came forth at a time when the study of the ancient Egyptian language and culture was just beginning. The scholars of the 1800s had scarcely begun to explore the field of Egyptology, and yet, with no formal training in ancient languages and no knowledge of ancient Egypt (except his work with the Book of Mormon), Joseph Smith began his translation of the ancient manuscripts. His knowledge and ability came through the power and gift of God, together with his own determination and faith” (The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2000], 29).
The Articles of Faith and the Wentworth Letter
Joseph Smith wrote a letter to John Wentworth, editor and proprietor of the Chicago Democrat, an Illinois newspaper. In the letter the Prophet Joseph Smith gave an account of the doctrines and history of the Latter-day Saints. The Articles of Faith were a part of that letter. For the text of the entire letter, see “The Wentworth Letter,” Ensign, July 2002, 26–32.