Joseph Smith heals Elsa Johnson’s arm

 

The following account comes to us from chapter 6 of the book entitled, The Prophet Joseph: Essays on the Life and Mission of Joseph Smith, by Larry Porter and Susan Easton Black:

The power that rested upon Joseph Smith in his prophetic calling manifested itself in many other ways in Kirtland. The power to heal, as taught by James (see James 5:14-15), was also frequently exercised by the Prophet in Ohio. One of the earliest evidences of the gift of healing led to the conversion of the John Johnson family, as well as of a Methodist minister, Ezra Booth. John and Elsa Johnson had come from Hiram, Ohio, with Ezra Booth to meet this man of God they had heard so much about since his arrival in Kirtland. In their first interview, the Prophet asked Elsa Johnson if she believed that God could heal her arm, using him as an instrument. Her reply was yes. Joseph remarked simply that he would visit her the next day. The next day he went to the home of Bishop Newel K. Whitney, where the Johnsons were staying. During a conversation concerning the supernatural gifts conferred in the days of the apostles, someone said, “Here is Mrs. Johnson with a lame arm; has God given any power to man on earth to cure her?” In a few moments the conversation had turned to another subject, when quietly Joseph Smith got up from his chair and walked to Elsa Johnson. Taking her by the hand, he said, “in the most solemn and impressive manner: ‘Woman, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I command thee to be whole.'” Immediately he left the house. “The company were awe-stricken at the infinite presumption of the man, and the calm assurance with which he spoke.” Ezra Booth then asked Elsa if her arm was healed. “She immediately stretched out her arm straight, remarking at the same time, ‘it’s as well as the other.'” 1

This experience helped convince John and Elsa Johnson that Joseph was what he claimed to be, a prophet of God. So impressed were they that they invited him and Sidney Rigdon to move to Hiram, Ohio, and live with them. This invitation appealed to the Prophet, for persecution was beginning to mount, and he was finding it difficult to continue his important work on the translation of the Bible. Once more Joseph gathered his family and his meager belongings and made the thirty-mile move to Hiram, Ohio.

Philo Dibble’s account

Philo Dibble 1806-1895

Philo Dibble 1806-1895

When Joseph came to Kirtland his fame spread far and wide. There was a woman living in the town of Hiram, forty miles from Kirtland, who had a crooked arm, which she had not been able to use for a long period. She persuaded her husband, whose name was [John] Johnson, to take her to Kirtland to get her arm healed.

I saw them as they passed my house on their way. She [Elsa Johnson] went to Joseph and requested him to heal her. Joseph asked her if she believed the Lord was able to make him an instrument in healing her arm. She said she believed the Lord was able to heal her arm.

Joseph put her off till the next morning, when he met her at Brother [Newel K.] Whitney’s house. There were eight persons present, one a Methodist preacher, and one a doctor. Joseph took her [Elsa Johnson] by the hand, prayed in silence a moment, pronounced her arm whole, in the name of Jesus Christ, and turned and left the room.

The preacher asked her if her arm was whole, and she straightened it out and replied: “It is as good as the other.” The question was then asked if it would remain whole. Joseph hearing this, answered and said: “It is as good as the other, and as liable to accident as the other.”

The doctor who witnessed this miracle came to my house the next morning and related the circumstance to me. He attempted to account for it by his false philosophy, saying that Joseph took her by the hand, and seemed to be in prayer, and pronounced her arm whole in the name of Jesus Christ, which excited her and started perspiration, and that relaxed the cords of her arm. I subsequently rented my farm and devoted all my time to the interest of the Church, holding myself in readiness to take Joseph wherever he wished to go. 2

Amos S. Hayden’s account

Ezra Booth, of Mantua, a Methodist preacher of much more than ordinary culture, and with strong natural abilities, in company with his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, and some other citizens of this place, (Hiram) visited Smith at his home in Kirtland, in 1831. Mrs. Johnson had been afflicted for some time with a lame arm, and was not at the time of the visit able to lift her hand to her head. The party visited Smith partly out of curiosity, and partly to see for themselves what there might be in the new doctrine. During the interview the conversation turned on the subject of supernatural gifts, such as were conferred in the days of the apostles. Some one said, “Here is Mrs. Johnson with a lame arm; has God given any power to men now on earth to cure her?” A few moments later, when the conversation had turned in another direction, Smith arose, and walking across the room, and taking Mrs. Johnson by the hand, said in the most solemn and impressive manner: “Woman, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command thee to be whole,” and immediately left the room. The company were awe-stricken at the infinite presumption of the man, and the calm assurance with which he spoke. The sudden mental and moral shock—I know not how better to explain the well-attested fact, electrified the rheumatic arm—Mrs. Johnson at once lifted it with ease, and on her return home the next day she was able to do her washing without difficulty or pain. 3

Notes

  1. Oliver B. Huntington, Young Woman’s Journal, vol. 2, no. 5 (Feb. 1891), pp. 225-26. See also Amos Sutton Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve (Cincinnati, Ohio: Chase and Hall, 1876), pp. 250-51; Smith, History of the Church, 1:215-16.
  2. Philo Dibble Autobiography (1806-c. 1843),” Early Scenes in Church History, Four Faith Promoting Classics (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), 79.
  3. A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1:278.
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Church History

A few weeks ago I was blessed to visit some Church history sites that I have always wanted to visit. I came to Palmyra, Fayette, and Harmony (it is called Oakland today) in New York and Pennsylvania. Later I came to Kirtland and visited the temple, John and Elsa Johnson’s farm, and the Newel K. Whitney store. I put together a power point showing some of the sites of interest and thought I would add this here. Thanks for reading!

Church History Sites

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Philo Dibble’s vision of a heavenly city

We then commenced settling Caldwell County, to which I removed, built a house, entered seven hundred and twenty acres of land and bought a lot in town. I also entered land for many of the brethren, and for this purpose had to go the distance of eighty miles, where the land office was located.

On my return home, when I got to Liberty, midway between Lexington and Far West, I concluded I would travel from there home by night, as it was very warm during the day. The road led through a strip of timber for four miles, and after that across a prairie for twenty miles.

When I had traveled about two-thirds of the way across the prairie, riding on horseback, I heard the cooing of the prairie hens. I looked northward and saw, apparently with my natural vision, a beautiful city, the streets of which ran north and south. I also knew there were streets running east and west, but could not trace them with my eye for the buildings. The walks on each side of the streets were as white as marble, and the trees on the outer side of the marble walks had the appearance of locust trees in autumn. This city was in view for about one hour-and-a-half, as near as I could judge, as I traveled along. When I began to descend towards the Crooked River the timber through which I passed hid the city from my view. Every block in this mighty city had sixteen spires, four on each corner, each block being built in the form of a hollow square, within which I seemed to know that the gardens of the inhabitants were situated. The corner buildings on which the spires rested were larger and higher than the others, and the several blocks were uniformly alike. The beauty and grandeur of the scene I cannot describe. While viewing the city the buildings appeared to be transparent. I could not discern the inmates, but I appeared to understand that they could discern whatever passed outside.

Whether this was a city that has been or is to be I cannot tell. It extended as far north as Adam-ondi-Ahman, a distance of about twenty-eight miles. Whatever is revealed to us by the Holy Ghost will never be forgotten. 1

Notes

  1. Philo Dibble, 1806-1895. Autobiography (1806-c. 1843) as found in Early Scenes in Church History, FOUR FAITH PROMOTING CLASSICS (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), pp. 74-96.

 

 

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Philo Dibble miraculously survives a gunshot in Missiouri

The following account from Philo Dibble comes to us from selections of his autobiography contained in Early Scenes in Church History, FOUR FAITH PROMOTING CLASSICS:
In 1832 I sold my possessions in Ohio, and, we being called upon by Joseph to advance monies to purchase the land in Jackson County, I paid fifty dollars for that purpose and also gave Brother Parley P. Pratt fifty dollars to assist him as a pioneer. I was then called on for money to be placed in the hands of Brothers [Newel K.] Whitney and [A. Sidney] Gilbert, who were going to New York to purchase goods to take up to Jackson County, and gave them three hundred dollars.

 

Philo Dibble

Philo Dibble

I joined in with a company led by Brother Thomas B. Marsh, and arrived in Independence, Jackson County, on the 10th of November. I remained in Independence until spring and then removed to the Whitmer settlement, farther west, where I built a house, fenced twenty acres of land and put in a garden.
In the fall of 1833, a sectarian preacher by the name of [Isaac] M’Coy [McCoy] came to the Whitmer settlement where I was living to buy up all the guns he could, representing that he wanted them for the Indians. We suspected no trouble, and quite a number of us sold our guns to him. The sequel of his action was, however, soon apparent to us, for rumors soon reached us of mobs assembling and threats being made to drive us from the county.
When the mob first began to gather and threaten us, I was selected to go to another county and buy powder and lead. The brethren gave me the privilege of choosing a man to go with me. I took with me a man by the name of John Poorman. We thought we were good for four of the mob. We went to the town of Liberty, Clay County, and purchased the ammunition, and returned safely.
Soon after I returned [31 October 1833], a mob of about one hundred and fifty came upon us in the dead hour of night, tore down a number of our houses and whipped and abused several of our brethren. I was aroused from my sleep by the noise caused by the falling houses, and had barely time to escape to the woods with my wife and two children when they reached my house and proceeded to break in the door and tear the roof off. I was some distance away from where the whipping occurred, but I heard the blows of heavy ox goads upon the backs of my brethren distinctly. The mob also swore they would tear down our grist mill, which was situated at the Colesville Branch, about three miles from the settlement, and lest they should really do so and as it was the only means we had of getting our grain ground, we were counseled to gather there and defend it. We accordingly proceeded there the next morning. The following night two men came into our camp, pretending they wanted to hire some men to work for them. Brother Parley [Pratt] ordered them to be taken prisoners, when one of them struck him a glancing blow on the head with his gun, inflicting a severe wound. We then disarmed them and kept them as prisoners until morn- ing when we gave them back their arms and let them go.
The next day we heard firing down in the Whitmer settlement, and seventeen of our brethren volunteered to go down and see what it meant. Brother George Beebe was one of these volunteers and also one of the men who was whipped the night previous. (Brother Beebe carried the marks of this whipping to his grave, as the brethren who laid him out at the time of his death, in December, 1881, at Provo, Utah County, can testify.) When these seventeen men arrived at the Whitmer settlement, the mob came against them and took some prisoners. Brother David Whitmer brought us the news of this and said: “Every man go, and every man take a man!”
[Battle near the Blue River, 4 November 1833] We all responded and met the mob in battle, in which I was wounded with an ounce ball and two buck shot, all entering my body just at the right side of my navel. The mob were finally routed, and the brethren chased them a mile away. Several others of the brethren were also shot, and one, named [Andrew] Barber, was mortally wounded. After the battle was over, some of the brethren went to administer to him, but he objected to their praying that he might live, and asked them if they could not see the angels present. He said the room was full of them, and his greatest anxiety was for his friends to see what he saw, until he breathed his last, which occurred at three o’clock in the morning.
A young lawyer named Bazill [Hugh L. Brazeale], who came into Independence and wanted to make himself conspicuous, joined the mob, and swore he would wade in blood up to his chin.
He was shot with two balls through his head, and never spoke. There was another man, whose name I fail to remember, that lived on the Big Blue, who made a similar boast. He was also taken at his word. His chin was shot off, or so badly fractured by a ball that he was forced to have it amputated, but lived and recovered, though he was a horrible sight afterwards.
After the battle I took my gun and powder horn and started for home. When I got about half way I became faint and thirsty. I wanted to stop at Brother Whitmer’s to lay down. The house, however, was full of women and children, and they were so frightened that they objected to my entering, as the mob had threatened that wherever they found a wounded man they would kill men, women and children.
I continued on and arrived home, or rather at a house in the field that the mob had not torn down, which was near my own home. There I found my wife and two children and a number of other women who had assembled. I told them I was shot and wanted to lay down.
They got me on the bed, but on thinking of what the mob had said, became frightened and assisted me upstairs. I told them, however, that I could not stay there, my pain was so great. They then got me downstairs again, and my wife went out to see if she could find any of the brethren. In searching for them she got lost in the woods and was gone two hours but learned that all the brethren had gone to the Colesville Branch, three miles distant, taking all the wounded with them save myself.
The next morning I was taken farther off from the road that I might be concealed from the mob. I bled inwardly until my body was filled with blood, and remained in this condition until the next day at five p. m. I was then examined by a surgeon who was in the Black Hawk War, and who said that he had seen a great many men wounded, but never saw one wounded as I was that ever lived. He pronounced me a dead man.
David Whitmer, however, sent me word that I should live and not die, but I could see no possible chance to recover. After the surgeon had left me, Brother Newel Knight came to see me, and sat down on the side of my bed. He laid his right hand on my head, but never spoke. I felt the Spirit resting upon me at the crown of my head before his hand touched me, and I knew immediately that I was going to be healed. It seemed to form like a ring under the skin, and followed down my body. When the ring came to the wound, another ring formed around the first bullet hole, also the second and third. Then a ring formed on each shoulder and on each hip, and followed down to the ends of my fingers and toes and left me. I immediately arose and discharged three quarts of blood or more, with some pieces of my clothes that had been driven into my body by the bullets. I then dressed myself and went outdoors and saw the falling of the stars, which so encouraged the Saints and frightened their enemies. It was one of the grandest sights I ever beheld. From that time not a drop of blood came from me and I never afterwards felt the slightest pain or inconvenience from my wounds, except that I was somewhat weak from the loss of blood.
The next day I walked around the field, and the day following I mounted a horse and rode eight miles, and went three miles on foot. 1
Philo Dibble miraculously survived being shot in Missouri, and goes on to be with the saints in Nauvoo, on westward to Utah, and dies in Springville in 1895. His obituary reads as follows:

Elder Philo Dibble, an aged and respected Utah veteran, died at his home in Springville at 2 O’clock this morning. Elder Dibble had been failing for some time past and was perfectly resigned to his position. He was in the ninetieth year of his age, and had very remarkable career. In his death it is thought the oldest member of the Church has passed from mortality. He was baptized Sep 15th 1830 by Parley P. Pratt. He was wounded by a mob during the troubled times of 1833 in Jackson County, Missouri. He was shot in the abdomen. The ball passed through his body and lodged near the backbone just beneath the skin where it remained up to the time of his death. On May 27th, he was visited by some Elders of the Church and among other things he said at that time: “I know, he said, the Church was established by divine revelation, Joseph Smith being God’s Prophet, Seer and Revelator. With him I was familiar and closely associated during his life from 1833 until 1844. When I beheld him as a martyr, shot with four bullets, even unto death; and I now lie here on my death bed with lead in my body at the age of 89, and I shall soon go to meet the martyr, for I now feel that my work here on earth is done, and my desire is that I may soon go in peace where I shall see many others who, like myself, have suffered many tribulations for Christ’s sake.” His funeral will be held at Springville, from the meeting house on Sunday afternoon next, beginning at 2 O’clock. He lived in Springville until Jun 7, 1895, when he died. He was buried at Springville, Utah. 2
Notes
1. Philo Dibble, 1806-1895. Autobiography (1806-c. 1843) as found in Early Scenes in Church History, FOUR FAITH PROMOTING CLASSICS (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), pp. 74-96.
2. Deseret Evening News Vol. XXVII, SLC, Utah – Friday Jun 7, 1895.

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The Book of Abraham

I have always believed as I have studied the scholarly literature on the Book of Abraham, that the papyri that Joseph worked with was a catalyst that opened the heavens, allowing him to see the events in Abraham’s life and to “translate” them, or to make them known unto us. I believe that the process was similar to Joseph’s translation of the Bible- when Joseph “translated” the Bible, he was using the text at his disposal and bringing to light things that were not in the text, adding inspired commentary, and deleting parts that were incorrect.

We see this type of translation in D&C 138, where Joseph F. Smith is permitted to view the Spirit World, where those that leave this life are engaged in a great work. In this revelation Joseph F. Smith relates, “I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures… reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God… while I was thus engaged… I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great. And they were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus…” (D&C 138:1-12)

In the following post on LDS.org, which has just been released, the authors acknowledge that the papyri that were brought to Joseph Smith may have been the catalyst by which the Book of Abraham was revealed (I have emphasized this portion of the article):

Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraces the book of Abraham as scripture. This book, a record of the biblical prophet and patriarch Abraham, recounts how Abraham sought the blessings of the priesthood, rejected the idolatry of his father, covenanted with Jehovah, married Sarai, moved to Canaan and Egypt, and received knowledge about the Creation. The book of Abraham largely follows the biblical narrative but adds important information regarding Abraham’s life and teachings.

The book of Abraham was first published in 1842 and was canonized as part of the Pearl of Great Price in 1880. The book originated with Egyptian papyri that Joseph Smith translated beginning in 1835. Many people saw the papyri, but no eyewitness account of the translation survives, making it impossible to reconstruct the process. Only small fragments of the long papyrus scrolls once in Joseph Smith’s possession exist today. The relationship between those fragments and the text we have today is largely a matter of conjecture.

We do know some things about the translation process. The word translation typically assumes an expert knowledge of multiple languages. Joseph Smith claimed no expertise in any language. He readily acknowledged that he was one of the “weak things of the world,” called to speak words sent “from heaven.”1 Speaking of the translation of the Book of Mormon, the Lord said, “You cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.”2 The same principle can be applied to the book of Abraham. The Lord did not require Joseph Smith to have knowledge of Egyptian. By the gift and power of God, Joseph received knowledge about the life and teachings of Abraham.

On many particulars, the book of Abraham is consistent with historical knowledge about the ancient world.3 Some of this knowledge, which is discussed later in this essay, had not yet been discovered or was not well known in 1842. But even this evidence of ancient origins, substantial though it may be, cannot prove the truthfulness of the book of Abraham any more than archaeological evidence can prove the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt or the Resurrection of the Son of God. The book of Abraham’s status as scripture ultimately rests on faith in the saving truths found within the book itself as witnessed by the Holy Ghost.

The Book of Abraham as Scripture 

Thousands of years ago, the prophet Nephi learned that one purpose of the Book of Mormon was to “establish the truth” of the Bible.4 In a similar way, the book of Abraham supports, expands, and clarifies the biblical account of Abraham’s life.

In the biblical account, God covenants with Abraham to “make of thee a great nation.”5 The book of Abraham provides context for that covenant by showing that Abraham was a seeker of “great knowledge” and a “follower of righteousness” who chose the right path in spite of great hardship. He rejected the wickedness of his father’s household and spurned the idols of the surrounding culture, despite the threat of death.6

In the Bible, God’s covenant with Abraham appears to begin during Abraham’s life. According to the book of Abraham, the covenant began before the foundation of the earth and was passed down through Adam, Noah, and other prophets.7 Abraham thus takes his place in a long line of prophets and patriarchs whose mission is to preserve and extend God’s covenant on earth. The heart of this covenant is the priesthood, through which “the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal” are conveyed.8

The book of Abraham clarifies several teachings that are obscure in the Bible. Life did not begin at birth, as is commonly believed. Prior to coming to earth, individuals existed as spirits. In a vision, Abraham saw that one of the spirits was “like unto God.”9 This divine being, Jesus Christ, led other spirits in organizing the earth out of “materials” or preexisting matter, not ex nihilo or out of nothing, as many Christians later came to believe.10 Abraham further learned that mortal life was crucial to the plan of happiness God would provide for His children: “We will prove them herewith,” God stated, “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them,” adding a promise to add glory forever upon the faithful.11 Nowhere in the Bible is the purpose and potential of earth life stated so clearly as in the book of Abraham.

Origin of the Book of Abraham 

The powerful truths found in the book of Abraham emerged from a set of unique historical events. In the summer of 1835, an entrepreneur named Michael Chandler arrived at Church headquarters in Kirtland, Ohio, with four mummies and multiple scrolls of papyrus.12 Chandler found a ready audience. Due partly to the exploits of the French emperor Napoleon, the antiquities unearthed in the catacombs of Egypt had created a fascination across the Western world.13 Chandler capitalized on this interest by touring with ancient Egyptian artifacts and charging visitors a fee to see them.

These artifacts had been uncovered by Antonio Lebolo, a former cavalryman in the Italian army. Lebolo, who oversaw some of the excavations for the consul general of France, pulled 11 mummies from a tomb not far from the ancient city of Thebes. Lebolo shipped the artifacts to Italy, and after his death, they ended up in New York. At some point the mummies and scrolls came into Chandler’s possession.14

By the time the collection arrived in Kirtland, all but four mummies and several papyrus scrolls had already been sold. A group of Latter-day Saints in Kirtland purchased the remaining artifacts for the Church. After Joseph Smith examined the papyri and commenced “the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics,” his history recounts, “much to our joy [we] found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham.”15

Translation and the Book of Abraham 

Joseph Smith worked on the translation of the book of Abraham during the summer and fall of 1835, by which time he completed at least the first chapter and part of the second chapter.16 His journal next speaks of translating the papyri in the spring of 1842, after the Saints had relocated to Nauvoo, Illinois. All five chapters of the book of Abraham, along with three illustrations (now known as facsimiles 1, 2, and 3), were published in the Times and Seasons, the Church’s newspaper in Nauvoo, between March and May 1842.17

The book of Abraham was the last of Joseph Smith’s translation efforts. In these inspired translations, Joseph Smith did not claim to know the ancient languages of the records he was translating. Much like the Book of Mormon, Joseph’s translation of the book of Abraham was recorded in the language of the King James Bible. This was the idiom of scripture familiar to early Latter-day Saints, and its use was consistent with the Lord’s pattern of revealing His truths “after the manner of their [His servants’] language, that they might come to understanding.”18

Joseph’s translations took a variety of forms. Some of his translations, like that of the Book of Mormon, utilized ancient documents in his possession. Other times, his translations were not based on any known physical records. Joseph’s translation of portions of the Bible, for example, included restoration of original text, harmonization of contradictions within the Bible itself, and inspired commentary.19

Some evidence suggests that Joseph studied the characters on the Egyptian papyri and attempted to learn the Egyptian language. His history reports that, in July 1835, he was “continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arrangeing a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients.”20 This “grammar,” as it was called, consisted of columns of hieroglyphic characters followed by English translations recorded in a large notebook by Joseph’s scribe, William W. Phelps. Another manuscript, written by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, has Egyptian characters followed by explanations.21

The relationship of these documents to the book of Abraham is not fully understood. Neither the rules nor the translations in the grammar book correspond to those recognized by Egyptologists today. Whatever the role of the grammar book, it appears that Joseph Smith began translating portions of the book of Abraham almost immediately after the purchase of the papyri.22 Phelps apparently viewed Joseph Smith as uniquely capable of understanding the Egyptian characters: “As no one could translate these writings,” he told his wife, “they were presented to President Smith. He soon knew what they were.”23

The Papyri 

After the Latter-day Saints left Nauvoo, the Egyptian artifacts remained behind. Joseph Smith’s family sold the papyri and the mummies in 1856. The papyri were divided up and sold to various parties; historians believe that most were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Ten papyrus fragments once in Joseph Smith’s possession ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.24 In 1967, the museum transferred these fragments to the Church, which subsequently published them in the Church’s magazine, the Improvement Era.25

The discovery of the papyrus fragments renewed debate about Joseph Smith’s translation. The fragments included one vignette, or illustration, that appears in the book of Abraham as facsimile 1. Long before the fragments were published by the Church, some Egyptologists had said that Joseph Smith’s explanations of the various elements of these facsimiles did not match their own interpretations of these drawings. Joseph Smith had published the facsimiles as freestanding drawings, cut off from the hieroglyphs or hieratic characters that originally surrounded the vignettes. The discovery of the fragments meant that readers could now see the hieroglyphs and characters immediately surrounding the vignette that became facsimile 1.26

None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham. Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham, though there is not unanimity, even among non-Mormon scholars, about the proper interpretation of the vignettes on these fragments.27 Scholars have identified the papyrus fragments as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies. These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived.

Of course, the fragments do not have to be as old as Abraham for the book of Abraham and its illustrations to be authentic. Ancient records are often transmitted as copies or as copies of copies. The record of Abraham could have been edited or redacted by later writers much as the Book of Mormon prophet-historians Mormon and Moroni revised the writings of earlier peoples.28 Moreover, documents initially composed for one context can be repackaged for another context or purpose.29 Illustrations once connected with Abraham could have either drifted or been dislodged from their original context and reinterpreted hundreds of years later in terms of burial practices in a later period of Egyptian history. The opposite could also be true: illustrations with no clear connection to Abraham anciently could, by revelation, shed light on the life and teachings of this prophetic figure.

Some have assumed that the hieroglyphs adjacent to and surrounding facsimile 1 must be a source for the text of the book of Abraham. But this claim rests on the assumption that a vignette and its adjacent text must be associated in meaning. In fact, it was not uncommon for ancient Egyptian vignettes to be placed some distance from their associated commentary.30

Neither the Lord nor Joseph Smith explained the process of translation of the book of Abraham, but some insight can be gained from the Lord’s instructions to Joseph regarding translation. In April 1829, Joseph received a revelation for Oliver Cowdery that taught that both intellectual work and revelation were essential to translating sacred records. It was necessary to “study it out in your mind” and then seek spiritual confirmation. Records indicate that Joseph and others studied the papyri and that close observers also believed that the translation came by revelation. As John Whitmer observed, “Joseph the Seer saw these Record[s] and by the revelation of Jesus Christ could translate these records.”31

It is likely futile to assess Joseph’s ability to translate papyri when we now have only a fraction of the papyri he had in his possession. Eyewitnesses spoke of “a long roll” or multiple “rolls” of papyrus.32 Since only fragments survive, it is likely that much of the papyri accessible to Joseph when he translated the book of Abraham is not among these fragments. The loss of a significant portion of the papyri means the relationship of the papyri to the published text cannot be settled conclusively by reference to the papyri.

Alternatively, Joseph’s study of the papyri may have led to a revelation about key events and teachings in the life of Abraham, much as he had earlier received a revelation about the life of Moses while studying the Bible. This view assumes a broader definition of the words translator and translation.33 According to this view, Joseph’s translation was not a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.34

The Book of Abraham and the Ancient World 

A careful study of the book of Abraham provides a better measure of the book’s merits than any hypothesis that treats the text as a conventional translation. Evidence suggests that elements of the book of Abraham fit comfortably in the ancient world and supports the claim that the book of Abraham is an authentic record.

The book of Abraham speaks disapprovingly of human sacrifice offered on an altar in Chaldea. Some victims were placed on the altar as sacrifices because they rejected the idols worshipped by their leaders.35 Recent scholarship has found instances of such punishment dating to Abraham’s time. People who challenged the standing religious order, either in Egypt or in the regions over which it had influence (such as Canaan), could and did suffer execution for their offenses.36 The conflict over the religion of Pharaoh, as described in Abraham 1:11–12, is an example of punishment now known to have been meted out during the Abrahamic era.

The book of Abraham contains other details that are consistent with modern discoveries about the ancient world. The book speaks of “the plain of Olishem,” a name not mentioned in the Bible. An ancient inscription, not discovered and translated until the 20th century, mentions a town called “Ulisum,” located in northwestern Syria.37 Further, Abraham 3:22–23 is written in a poetic structure more characteristic of Near Eastern languages than early American writing style.38

Joseph Smith’s explanations of the facsimiles of the book of Abraham contain additional earmarks of the ancient world. Facsimile 1 and Abraham 1:17 mention the idolatrous god Elkenah. This deity is not mentioned in the Bible, yet modern scholars have identified it as being among the gods worshipped by ancient Mesopotamians.39 Joseph Smith represented the four figures in figure 6 of facsimile 2 as “this earth in its four quarters.” A similar interpretation has been argued by scholars who study identical figures in other ancient Egyptian texts.40 Facsimile 1 contains a crocodile deity swimming in what Joseph Smith called “the firmament over our heads.” This interpretation makes sense in light of scholarship that identifies Egyptian conceptions of heaven with “a heavenly ocean.”41

The book of Abraham is consistent with various details found in nonbiblical stories about Abraham that circulated in the ancient world around the time the papyri were likely created. In the book of Abraham, God teaches Abraham about the sun, the moon, and the stars. “I show these things unto thee before ye go into Egypt,” the Lord says, “that ye may declare all these words.”42 Ancient texts repeatedly refer to Abraham instructing the Egyptians in knowledge of the heavens. For example, Eupolemus, who lived under Egyptian rule in the second century B.C.E., wrote that Abraham taught astronomy and other sciences to the Egyptian priests.43 A third-century papyrus from an Egyptian temple library connects Abraham with an illustration similar to facsimile 1 in the book of Abraham.44 A later Egyptian text, discovered in the 20th century, tells how the Pharaoh tried to sacrifice Abraham, only to be foiled when Abraham was delivered by an angel. Later, according to this text, Abraham taught members of the Pharaoh’s court through astronomy.45 All these details are found in the book of Abraham.

Other details in the book of Abraham are found in ancient traditions located across the Near East. These include Terah, Abraham’s father, being an idolator; a famine striking Abraham’s homeland; Abraham’s familiarity with Egyptian idols; and Abraham’s being 62 years old when he left Haran, not 75 as the biblical account states. Some of these extrabiblical elements were available in apocryphal books or biblical commentaries in Joseph Smith’s lifetime, but others were confined to nonbiblical traditions inaccessible or unknown to 19th-century Americans.46

Conclusion 

The veracity and value of the book of Abraham cannot be settled by scholarly debate concerning the book’s translation and historicity. The book’s status as scripture lies in the eternal truths it teaches and the powerful spirit it conveys. The book of Abraham imparts profound truths about the nature of God, His relationship to us as His children, and the purpose of this mortal life. The truth of the book of Abraham is ultimately found through careful study of its teachings, sincere prayer, and the confirmation of the Spirit.

Resources 

  1. Doctrine and Covenants 1:17, 19, 24.
  2. Doctrine and Covenants 9:9.
  3. See, for example, Daniel C. Peterson, “News from Antiquity,” Ensign, Jan. 1994, and John Gee, “Research and Perspectives: Abraham in Ancient Egyptian Texts,” Ensign, July 1992.
  4. 1 Nephi 13:40. See also Mormon 7:8–9.
  5. Genesis 12:2.
  6. Abraham 1:1–2, 5–12.
  7. Abraham 1:2–3, 19.
  8. Abraham 2:11. See also Doctrine and Covenants 84:19–21.
  9. Abraham 3:24.
  10. Abraham 3:24; 4:1, 12, 14–16.
  11. Abraham 3:25–26.
  12. Joseph Smith History, 1838–1856, vol. B-1, 596, available at josephsmithpapers.org.
  13. See S. J. Wolfe with Robert Singerman, Mummies in Nineteenth Century America: Ancient Egyptians as Artifacts (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009); and John T. Irwin, American Hieroglyphics: The Symbol of the Egyptian Hieroglyphics in the American Renaissance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980).
  14. The most extensive treatment of Lebolo and his excavations, though dated in some particulars, is H. Donl Peterson, The Story of the Book of Abraham: Mummies, Manuscripts, and Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1995), 36–85. On the whereabouts of the mummies after they arrived in the United States, see Brian L. Smith interview by Philip R. Webb, “Mystery of the Mummies: An Update on the Joseph Smith Collection,” Religious Studies Center Newsletter 20, no. 2 (2005): 1–5.
  15. Joseph Smith History, 1838–1856, vol. B-1, 596, available at josephsmithpapers.org.
  16. Brian M. Hauglid, A Textual History of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions (Provo, UT: Maxwell Institute, 2010), 6, 84, 110.
  17. Joseph Smith, Journal, March 8–9, 1842, available at josephsmithpapers.org; “A Fac-Simile from the Book of Abraham” and “A Translation,” Times and Seasons, Mar. 1, 1842, 703–6, available at josephsmithpapers.org; “The Book of Abraham,” Times and Seasons, Mar. 15, 1842, 719–22, available at josephsmithpapers.org; and “A Fac-Simile from the Book of Abraham” and “Explanation of Cut on First Page,” Times and Seasons, May 16, 1842, 783–84.
  18. Doctrine and Covenants 1:24.
  19. Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1985), 253. In Joseph Smith’s day, the word translate could mean “to interpret; to render into another language.” The word interpret could mean “to explain the meaning of words to a person who does not understand them,” or “to explain or unfold the meaning of predictions, vision, dreams or enigmas; to expound and lay open what is concealed from the understanding.” (Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language [New York: S. Converse, 1828], s.v. “Translate,” “Interpret.”)
  20. Joseph Smith History, 1838–1856, vol. B-1, 597, available at josephsmithpapers.org.
  21. Transcriptions and digital images of these manuscripts, known collectively as the “Kirtland Egyptian Papers,” can be found at “Book of Abraham and Egyptian Material,” josephsmithpapers.org.
  22. Joseph Smith History, 1838–1856, vol. B-1, 596, available at josephsmithpapers.org.
  23. W. W. Phelps to Sally Phelps, July 19–20, 1835, in Bruce A. Van Orden, “Writing to Zion: The William W. Phelps Kirtland Letters (1835–1836),” BYU Studies 33, no. 3 (1993): 555, available at byustudies.byu.edu.
  24. John Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000), 2. The fragments are known to have been part of the papyri owned by the Church because they were mounted on paper with early Mormon records, which conforms to contemporary descriptions of the display of the papyri.
  25. Jay M. Todd, “New Light on Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Papyri,” Improvement Era, Feb. 1968, 40–41. Another fragment was located in the Church Historian’s Office around the same time as the Metropolitan discovery, making 11 fragments in all.
  26. Michael D. Rhodes, “Why Doesn’t the Translation of the Egyptian Papyri found in 1967 Match the Text of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price?Ensign, July 1988, 51–53.
  27. Kerry Muhlestein, “Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: A Faithful, Egyptological Point of View,” and Brian M. Hauglid, “Thoughts on the Book of Abraham,” both in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo and Salt Lake City, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book, 2011), 217–58. On the lack of unanimity among Egyptologists, see, for example, John Gee, “A Method for Studying the Facsimiles,” FARMS Review 19, no. 1 (2007): 348–51; and Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, 2d. ed. (Provo and Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2005), 51–53. For translation of and commentary on the fragments, see Michael D. Rhodes, Books of the Dead Belonging to Tschemmin and Neferirnub: A Translation and Commentary (Provo, UT: Maxwell Institute, 2010); Michael D. Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2002); and Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 34–50.
  28. Joseph Smith, or perhaps an assistant at the Nauvoo print shop, introduced the published translation by saying that the records were “written by his [Abraham’s] own hand, upon papyrus.” The phrase can be understood to mean that Abraham is the author and not the literal copyist. Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2010), 20–22; Michael D. Rhodes, “Teaching the Book of Abraham Facsimiles,” Religious Educator 4, no. 2 (2003): 117–18.
  29. Kevin L. Barney, “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources,” in John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, eds., Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2005), 107–30.
  30. Henk Milde, “Vignetten-Forschung,” in Burkhard Backes and others, eds., Totenbuch-Forschungen (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2006), 221–31; Holger Kockelmann, Untersuchungen zu den späten Totenbuch-Handschriften auf Mumienbinden (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2008), 2:212–14; Valérie Angenot, “Discordance entre texte et image. Deux exemples de l’Ancien et du Nouvel Empires,” GöttingerMiszellen 187 (2002): 11–21.
  31. John Whitmer, History, 1831–ca. 1837, 76, in Karen Lynn Davidson, Richard L. Jensen, and David J. Whittaker, eds., Histories, Volume 2: Assigned Historical Writings, 1831–1847, vol. 2 of the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2012), 86. “I have set by his side and penned down the translation of the Egyptian Hieroglyphicks as he claimed to receive it by direct inspiration of Heaven,” wrote Warren Parrish, Joseph Smith’s scribe. (Warren Parrish, Feb. 5, 1838, Letter to the editor, Painesville Republican, Feb. 15, 1838, [3].)
  32. Hauglid, Textual History of the Book of Abraham, 213–14, 222.
  33. “Joseph Smith as Translator,” in Richard Lyman Bushman, Believing History: Latter-day Saint Essays, ed. Reid L. Neilson and Jed Woodworth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 233–47; Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 51–59. See also footnote 19.
  34. By analogy, the Bible seems to have been a frequent catalyst for Joseph Smith’s revelations about God’s dealings with His ancient covenant people. Joseph’s study of the book of Genesis, for example, prompted revelations about the lives and teachings of Adam, Eve, Moses, and Enoch, found today in the book of Moses.
  35. Abraham 1:8, 10–11. Most scholars today locate “Chaldea” (or Ur) in southern Mesopotamia, removed from the area of Egyptian influence, but cogent arguments have been made for a northern location, within the realm of Egyptian influence. (Paul Y. Hoskisson, “Where Was Ur of the Chaldees?” in H. Donl Peterson and Charles D. Tate Jr., eds., The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations from God [Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1989], 119–36; and Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 84–85, 234–36.)
  36. Kerry Muhlestein, Violence in the Service of Order: The Religious Framework for Sanctioned Killing in Ancient Egypt (Oxford, U.K.: Archaeopress, 2001), 37–44, 92–101; Kerry Muhlestein, “Royal Executions: Evidence Bearing on the Subject of Sanctioned Killing in the Middle Kingdom,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 51, no. 2 (2008): 181–208; Anthony Leahy, “Death by Fire in Ancient Egypt,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 27, no. 2 (1984): 199–206; Harco Willems, “Crime, Cult and Capital Punishment (Mo’alla Inscription 8),” Journal of Egyptian Archeology 76 (1990): 27–54.
  37. Abraham 1:10; John Gee, “Has Olishem Been Discovered?”, Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scriptures 22, no. 2 (2013): 104–7, available at maxwellinstitute.byu.edu.
  38. Julie M. Smith, “A Note on Chiasmus in Abraham 3:22–23,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8 (2014): 187–90, available at mormoninterpreter.com; Boyd F. Edwards and W. Farrell Edwards, “When Are Chiasms Admissible as Evidence?” BYU Studies 49, no. 4 (2010): 131–54, available at byustudies.byu.edu.
  39. Kevin L. Barney, “On Elkenah as Canaanite El,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 19, no. 1 (2010): 22–35, available at maxwellinstitute.byu.edu; John Gee and Stephen D. Ricks, “Historical Plausibility: The Historicity of the Book of Abraham as a Case Study,” in Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2001), 75.
  40. Martin J. Raven, “Egyptian Concepts of the Orientation of the Human Body,” in Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress of Egyptologists (2007), 2:1569–70.
  41. Erik Hornung, “Himmelsvorstellungen,” Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 7 vols. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowit, 1977–1989), 2:1216. For these and other examples, see Peterson, “News from Antiquity”; Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2009), 115–78; Nibley and Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 236–45; John Gee, “A New Look at the Conception of the Human Being in Ancient Egypt,” in “Being in Ancient Egypt”: Thoughts on Agency, Materiality and Cognition, ed. Rune Nyord and Annette Kjølby (Oxford, U.K.: Archaeopress, 2009), 6–7, 12–13.
  42. Abraham 3:2–15.
  43. Excerpts from Eupolemus, in John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid, and John Gee, eds., Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, Studies in the Book of Abraham, ed. John Gee, vol. 1 (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2001), 8–9. For other references to Abraham teaching astronomy, see, for example, Tvedtnes, Hauglid, and Gee, Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, 7, 35–43.
  44. Excerpts from P. Leiden I 384 (PGM XII), in Tvedtnes, Hauglid, and Gee, Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, 501–2, 523.
  45. John Gee, “An Egyptian View of Abraham,” in Andrew C. Skinner, D. Morgan Davis, and Carl Griffin, eds., Bountiful Harvest: Essays in Honor of S. Kent Brown (Provo, UT: Maxwell Institute, 2011), 137–56.
  46. See E. Douglas Clark, review of Michael E. Stone, Armenian Apocrypha Relating to Abraham (2012), in BYU Studies Quarterly 53:2 (2014): 173-79; Tvedtnes, Hauglid, and Gee, Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham; Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000), 1–73. Some of these extrabiblical elements were available to Joseph Smith through the books of Jasher and Josephus. Joseph Smith was aware of these books, but it is unknown whether he utilized them.

The Church acknowledges the contribution of scholars to the historical content presented in this article; their work is used with permission.

Kerry Muhlestein discusses the Book of Abraham in this video.

 

Posted in Book of Abraham, Receiving Revelation | Leave a comment

Alma 49-51 Adapt or Perish

Alma 49-51 illustrate how Moroni continually adapted to circumstances as he fought with the Lamanites. His army was the first to the battle with armor, as Zerahemnah stated:

We are not of your faith; we do not believe that it is God that has delivered us into your hands; but we believe that it is … your breastplates and your shields that have preserved you” (Alma 43:9).

The next time the Lamanites come to battle, they were also prepared with armor for their armies:

The leaders of the Lamanites… had also prepared themselves with shields, and with breastplates; and … with garments of skins, yea, very thick garments to cover their nakedness” (Alma 49:6).

World War 1

World War 1

Moroni was ready for them. He had rebuilt his weak areas, and made them strong (Alma 49:1-4). Not only had he strengthened his weaker areas, he had built “forts of security” for every city “in all the land round about” (Alma 49:13). He was prepared for the Lamanites when they came for his people. One can imagine the workers wondering why they were building an embankment around their cities when they were successful in their previous battles. Imagine the surprise of the Nephites when they saw the Lamanites coming at them, prepared with armor!

Moroni was one step ahead of the enemy. Because of his preparation, and the righteousness of the Nephites, “not a single soul of the Nephites was slain” in the battles described in Alma 49 (Alma 49:23).

In the next chapter we read that Moroni commenced “digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities” and “caused that there should be timbers” and “pickets” around his cities (Alma 50:2-3). He instructed his men to build towers where his men could defend themselves (Alma 50:4). He was always innovating: “Moroni did not stop making preparations for war, or to defend his people… digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities…” (Alma 50:1).

How does this apply?

World War 2

World War 2

As teachers of the gospel, it is imperative that we continually improve. It is always good to look for ways to make the principles in the scriptures come alive for our students. When we have stopped adapting, we are stagnating.

President Packer said:

The world is spiraling downward at an ever-quickening pace.  I am sorry to tell you that it will not get better.  It is my purpose to charge each of you as teachers with the responsibility – to put you on alert.  These are days of great spiritual danger for our youth.

I know of nothing in the history of the Church or in history of the world to compare with our present circumstances.  Nothing happened in Sodom and Gomorrah which exceeds in wickedness and depravity that which surrounds us now. 1

President Eyring stated:

The world in which our students choose spiritual life or death is changing rapidly…The spiritual strength sufficient for our youth to stand firm just a few years ago will soon not be enough.  Many of them are remarkable in their spiritual maturity and in their faith.  But even the best of them are sorely tested.  And the testing will become more severe. 2

A good question to ask students is, “What small changes could you make in things that you do often that would be a protection to you as make your way through your life? What things are you currently doing to protect yourself from evil?”

Modern Equipment

Modern Equipment

As students reflect on these questions, the Spirit will guide them to make the necessary adaptations that fit their specific circumstances. I like to share things that I am doing in my family and in my life that work for me, but it is important for my students to know that these are ways that I have found to apply this principle. My application will not work for everyone. As students come up with their own ways of applying this principle, they will live it because it is theirs. They own it. It becomes part of them, and they are empowered to be a force for good in an ever increasing wicked world.

Notes

1. President Packer, The One Pure Defense, 6 February 2004.

2. Presient Eyring, We Must Raise Our Sights, 14 August, 2001.

Posted in Book of Mormon, Principles | Leave a comment

Old Testament Lesson 9: God Will Provide A Lamb

Lesson 9: God Will Provide A Lamb

Kings Shall Come Out of Thee

Genesis 15–17; 21. Later in his life, Abraham desires and is promised seed (15:1–6). Sarah gives Hagar to Abraham as his wife; Hagar bears Ishmael (16:1–16). God again speaks of his covenant with Abraham, promising that he will be the father of many nations (17:1–14). Genesis 17:6 – “Kings shall come out of thee.” (This is describing the Church of the Firstborn, those Saints who will be exalted, who will eventually live the life that God the Father lives. This is also termed Deification.) 1

To me, this verse has everything to do with the kind of kings and queens God wants us to become. I do not think he really cares about worldly kings and influence, rather he is telling Abraham that from his line thousands will be exalted. These exalted saints are called kings and queens throughout scripture. They are members of the Church of the Firstborn, those that inherit eternal life, or the life that God lives.

I like to emphasize the truth of what these kings and queens are that are referenced in this passage, as well to as analyze how the sacrifice of Isaac foreshadowed the future atoning sacrifice of the Son of God – Jesus Christ. It is also noteworthy to see examples of Abraham-like faith in the lives of those who lived in Church History. It strengthens me when I see their lives and read or hear of their sacrifice!

The Success of God’s Plan of Happiness Continue reading

Posted in Grace, Jesus Christ, Mercy, Miracles, Old Testament | Leave a comment