A New Resource on the Book of Moses
A New Resource on the Book of Moses
Reviewed by Brian M. Hauglid
Commentaries on the Pearl of Great Price have steadily
appeared ever since Milton R. Hunter’s Pearl of Great Price Commentary first became available in 1948.1 However, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw has produced the first commentary solely devoted
to the Book of Moses in his book In God’s Image and Likeness.
Bradshaw brings together
a wide variety of ancient texts from traditions such as Judaism, Islam, and
Christianity, as well as modern views from Latter-day Saint authorities and
scholars that the author correlates to select portions of the Book of Moses.
This large volume begins with a roughly five-page preface with endnotes (pp.
xxi–xxxv) in which the author mentions his opportunity to take a yearlong
sabbatical in France to work on the commentary project (p. xxi). He explains
how his “awakening to the literary beauty of scripture” was
facilitated by his mentor Arthur Henry King, who taught him to recite scripture
out loud while looking for literary nuances (p. xxiii). He references Margaret
Barker’s argument for contextualizing scripture (p. xxiv) and ends with an
injunction to search for revelation in understanding scripture (p. xxv).
An eighteen-page introduction with endnotes (pp.
1–31) considers the relationship between the Book of Moses, the book of
Genesis, and the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) and discusses their common or
variant readings. Bradshaw also provides an excerpt from the seminal Joseph Smith’s
New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts on the chronology
of the production of the Book of Moses.2
The introduction also
includes a section on how to use the book. After explaining the threefold meaning
of the book’s title phrase, “In God’s Image and Likeness” (pp.
10–11), Bradshaw outlines the book’s arrangement and provides reasoning
for his use of illustrations, which he inserts throughout the book to provide
an added dimension to the many topics presented. It is in this section that the
author describes how to follow the intricate system of gleanings, footnotes,
and endnotes used extensively throughout the book.
In the final section of the introduction, entitled “On
the Use of Ancient Texts,” Bradshaw discusses methodological questions
concerning the use of ancient texts. He acknowledges the difficulties and
possible trappings of varying contexts and transmission issues when employing
ancient texts to enhance scriptural understandings. He explains that his
approach in this book is to include as much of the ancient and modern
commentary as possible as a study resource (p. 17) to aid in better understanding
the Book of Moses. For the most part the author’s methodology combines two
long-standing approaches in Latter-day Saint scholarship: (1) provide
authoritative statements from General Authorities or commentary by scholars on
select verses of scripture, and (2) include material from ancient texts for
The next section of the book is the main commentary and
comprises six chapters (pp. 33–509) divided according to the first six
chapters of the Book of Moses (i.e., Moses 1–6:12). I was quite disappointed
to learn that the commentary ends abruptly at Moses 6:12. How this decision was
arrived at eludes me, but in my opinion the book would have been a lot stronger
had it included the entire Book of Moses.
Each chapter of this commentary begins with a brief
overview in which the historical background to the reception of the chapter
(related to the JST) and its general outline are discussed. After a few general
themes related to the chapter are explored, the text block for the chapter and
commentary follow. For the commentary, the author identifies certain words or
phrases in select verses that ostensibly can be enriched or paralleled using
ancient texts or modern commentary. The book has some very thoughtful insights in
the chapter overviews and commentary. In the overviews, I particularly liked
the discussions of the literary structure of Moses 1 (pp. 36–37) and the
nature of Eden before the fall (pp. 141–44). I also liked the theme
entitled “The Nakedness and the Clothing of Adam and Eve” (pp.
Many of the insights from ancient sources in the commentary
are very interesting. They are also utilized according to the author’s promise
of including as many as possible. In the end I can see how the commentary can
be helpful in a comparative study, but in my view one must also be cautious
with parallels. I did find a few instances where I believe the author misread
some of the sources and misapplied them as parallels. One example of a
misreading and misapplication I found seems to be Bradshaw’s effort to identify
the phrase “caught up” in Moses 1:1 (p. 42). He first notes examples
from the scriptures of others who have been “caught up,” such as Paul
and Nephi in 2 Corinthians 12:2 and 1 Nephi 11:1, respectively. He then
introduces a later statement of Nephi’s that “upon the wings of his Spirit
hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains” (2 Nephi
4:25) and links the phrase “wings of his Spirit” to Abraham being “raised
up to heaven on the wings of a bird,” found in the Apocalypse of
The actual passage Bradshaw refers to from the Apocalypse of
Abraham 12:7–10 reads as follows:
And the angel said to me, “Abraham.”
And I said, “Here I am.” And he said to me, “Slaughter all these
and divide the animals exactly into halves. But do not cut the birds apart. And
give them to the men whom I will show you standing beside you, for they are the
altar on the mountain, to offer sacrifice to the Eternal One. The turtledove
and the pigeon you will give to me, for I will ascend on the wings of the birds
to show you (what) is in the heavens, on the earth and in the sea, in the
abyss, and in the lower depths, in the garden of Eden and in its rivers, in the
fullness of the universe. And you will see its circles in all.” 3
First, Bradshaw writes
the phrase “wings of a bird,” which should actually be “wings of the birds,” as it
appears in the Apocalypse of Abraham. Second, although the key word wings may give some force
to the parallel, equating the “Spirit” with “birds,” in my
view, is a stretch. Does a close examination of this passage, in fact, justify
asserting that the phrase “wings of the birds” parallels “wings
of his Spirit”? From the context of the passage, the “birds”
motif appears not to be strongly connected to the notion of the “Spirit”
but is a metaphor indicating the ability to swiftly move about or travel, that
is, to the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the abyss, and so on. And who is it
that travels swiftly like birds? Here, third, it is not Abraham who ascends to
heaven on the “wings of the birds” (which is the main force of the
parallel) but the angel to whom Abraham is talking.
Certainly not every use of ancient texts in this volume
demonstrates a misreading or misapplication, but the above exemplifies problems
that can happen when reading through a large number of texts. Mining thousands
of pages of ancient (or modern) texts presents a significant challenge for anyone
undertaking this kind of project. Thus it should be no surprise that errors
A definite challenge arises in deciding which phrases in ancient
texts should be applied to certain verses in the Book of Moses. Should the
context of the chosen portion of the ancient text align with the context of the
phrase or verse of scripture to which it is compared? If so, what criteria
should be followed to make sure that the context of the ancient text can be
validated? And when a valid parallel is found, what does that mean? Does it
somehow authenticate that portion of scripture to which it is compared? In
general, Bradshaw provides no analysis in the commentary that answers these
questions. And, quite frankly, it would be near impossible to do so without
expanding the project into many volumes. The author’s main purpose is simply to
provide an environment in which to enrich one’s study of the Book of Moses.
After each chapter of commentary, Bradshaw provides “gleanings,”
or excerpted quotations from various authors (Latter-day Saints and others)
that provide additional information. These gleanings come from a variety of
ancient or modern authors such as Philo, at-Tabatabaʾi, Juanita Brooks, C.
Terry Warner, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, C. S. Lewis, Brigham Young, and, of course,
Hugh Nibley. The gleanings can be as short as one sentence or several pages
long. Although some of the gleanings were interesting, I admit that I did not
always understand how some of them related to the Book of Moses.
The rest of the book
(pp. 510–1101) contains various types of resources. In the section
entitled “Excursus” (pp. 510–783), the author supplies
fifty-five essays on various topics such as “Science and Mormonism,” “The
Circle and the Square,” and “The Five Lost Things of the Temple.”
Again, although some of these articles were interesting, I was a bit stymied
trying to figure out how these essays directly related to the Book of Moses. To
me they seemed to deal with mostly tangential topics.
An appendix (pp. 785–803) also contains ancillary
materials such as the “BYU Evolution Packet” put together in 1992, an
essay on how the packet was put together, and other materials on the origin of
man. An annotated bibliography of ancient texts related to the Book of Moses
and JST Genesis (pp. 805–908) provides a modicum of contextualization
for the ancient sources used in the book, which includes some useful charts.
The book ends with references to modern LDS and other sources used in the
volume (pp. 911–1009), a selection of beautiful color plates of artwork
used in the book (pp. 1010–39), and helpful indexes (pp. 1041–1101)
to figures, scriptures, statements of latter-day prophets, and topics.
There is always room for improvement in any project of this
scope. Here are a few weaknesses that attracted my attention: (1) It is not a
complete commentary of the Book of Moses (it treats the text only up to Moses
6:12). (2) The notes can be very long and laborious to read. (3) The notation
system can sometimes be quite difficult to follow. There are both endnotes and
even footnotes to the endnotes throughout the book. (4) Except for the
commentary chapters, most of the material in the book (especially the “gleanings”
and “excurses”) is not about the actual Book of Moses itself, but is
instead a collection of ancillary materials of various topics that seemingly
arise in the Book of Moses. (5). A clear, consistent editorial style, such as
Chicago or Turabian, is not followed in the book. Sometimes references to cited
books and such are shortened, making it difficult to ascertain the source
without going to the full reference in the back of the book. In my view, more
editing needed to be done to weed out superfluous or overlong references.
Bradshaw has done a
great service in providing such a large array of material to supplement one’s
study of the Book of Moses. But it should also be understood that this vast
amount of material is subjectively put together and does not follow any
methodology of scholarly restraint. This, in and of itself, does not make this
a bad book, but readers should be cautious in accepting that every insight or
comparison presented in the book is valid or of equal importance. In addition,
although Bradshaw does not argue that parallels give authenticity to the
scripture, readers should be wary of concluding that one can “prove”
the scriptures by finding parallels. Perhaps the book’s real value in using so
many ancient sources will not be so much in authenticating the truthfulness of
the Book of Moses as in authenticating its antiquity.
As far as fulfilling the purposes the author intended, that
is, providing a wealth of information from both ancient and modern sources for
those who wish to study the Book of Moses, I think this book is a success. It
should be noted, however, that except for the actual commentary, the book is
mostly a potpourri of materials loosely related to the Book of Moses rather
than a cohesive presentation on the Book of Moses itself. In my view, the value
of this book lies in its usefulness as a select commentary on Moses
1:1–6:12 and as a reference or sourcebook on various topics that appear
to emerge from the Book of Moses.
Brian M. Hauglid (PhD, University of Utah) is an associate
professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.
1. Milton R.
of Great Price Commentary: A Selection from the Revelations, Translations, and
Narrations of Joseph Smith, First Prophet, Seer, and Revelator to the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Stevens and
2. Scott H.
Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, eds., Joseph Smith’s
New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts (Provo, UT: BYU
Religious Studies Center, 2004).
Rubinkiewicz, “Apocalypse of Abraham,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha,
ed. James H. Charlesworth (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 1:695. I used the
same source Bradshaw used.