Joseph Smith Papers Project Releases New Volume

  By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 10 December 2013

Riley M. Lorimer, lead editor of Documents, Volume 2, in the Joseph Papers, tells of the effort to be mindful of the contributions of women in Church history.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • Letters in this volume portray Joseph as a father and husband.
  • This volume depicts key revelations that led to significant developments in the Church’s theology.
  • Content from the volumes is usually available online 18 months after the printed publication.

“We have three revelations in this volume that have become hallmarks of the Church’s theology: section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the vision of the three degrees of glory; section 84, which deals with the greater and lesser priesthood and outlines the responsibilities of each; and section 88, which begins with a great discourse on Jesus Christ.” —Matthew C. Godfrey, volume editor

The development of the city of Zion in Jackson County, Missouri, is the major theme of the latest volume released in the Joseph Smith Papers Project undertaken by the Church History Department.

The publication of Documents, Volume 2: July 1831–January 1833, was introduced December 2 at a bloggers’ event held at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. It is the second volume in the Documents series of the project and the eighth to be published out of the anticipated two dozen or so letterpress volumes that will be published over the next several years.

The Church Historian’s Press is publishing the volumes at the rate of one or two books a year. Volume 1 in the Documents series was released in September.

The very first document in this latest release is the revelation given July 20, 1831, in Missouri, wherein Jackson County is designated by the Lord as the location for the city of Zion.

“It’s fitting that it is the first document in the volume, because in the rest of the volume, we see the development of the city of Zion in Missouri and some of the logistical and administrative issues that causes,” said Matthew C. Godfrey, one of the five volume editors.

“With Jackson County designated as the location for the city, you begin to have two separate major locations of settlement for the Saints,” Brother Godfrey said, referring to Kirtland, Ohio, as the other major location. “Trying to figure out how the settlement of Jackson County should proceed, who should be in charge of how it should proceed, who’s in charge over in Missouri, and how they fit in with Joseph Smith’s leadership in Ohio—those are all issues that we see play out throughout Documents, Volume 2.

Apparent in the documents is tension between Edward Partridge, the bishop in Missouri, and Joseph Smith and others in Ohio, he explained.

“We see some of that tension come out in revelations such as the one in September 1832, which is now Doctrine and Covenants 84, where it talks about the children of Zion being under condemnation and tells the leaders in Kirtland that they need to warn those in Zion that they need to repent,” he said.

Logistical elements of trying to build the city are evident in a letter from Oliver Cowdery to Joseph Smith in January 1832, detailing the purchase of some 1,200 acres of land by Edward Partridge and the remaining money that can be used for the purchase of goods and services.

“Another thing that really comes out in the volume is the theme of Joseph Smith as a parent and husband,” Brother Godfrey said. Two letters from Joseph to his wife, Emma, are both in the Prophet’s own handwriting, which is rare, as he dictated to scribes most of his communications. One letter expresses Joseph’s homesickness and his longing to take his child Julia on his knee.

Mark Ashurst-McGee, a volume editor of Documents, Volume 2, in the Joseph Smith Papers, displays one of the original documents contained in the new volume. R. Scott Lloyd

“It really is a tender portrayal of Joseph Smith as a family man,” Brother Godfrey remarked.

“The last overarching theme in the volume is the development of the Church’s theology in this time period,” he said. “We have three revelations in this volume that have become hallmarks of the Church’s theology: section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the vision of the three degrees of glory; section 84, which deals with the greater and lesser priesthood and outlines the responsibilities of each; and section 88, which begins with a great discourse on Jesus Christ, then moves into a discussion of the need to build a temple in Kirtland and the need to establish a school of the prophets to train the missionaries that will be heading out to preach the gospel thereafter.”

Mark Ashurst-McGee, another of the volume editors, spoke of interesting characteristics of the documents in the volume.

For example, one of the letters from Joseph to Emma has the Prophet’s fingerprint, as he smudged out words to do some minor corrections.

Other documents contain amazing collections of signatures from the major Church leaders of the day, including Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, William W. Phelps, Martin Harris, Isaac Morley, and others.

Brother Ashurst-McGee said it has become clear from work on the volume that documents are not always what they appear to be on the face.

For example, a revelation of January 5, 1833, is actually dated 1834. But scholars determined that the date was in a different hand with different ink than the body of the document. Forensic analysis involving x-ray fluorescence, as well as knowledge of the historical context, led the scholars to conclude that the document was actually created in 1833.

Riley M. Lorimer, lead editor, said there are a couple of documents in the volume that specifically pertain to women.

One deals with what would happen to the rights of women if their husbands consecrated their property to the Church and then died.

Another shows that women were present at the first day of the two-day conference in January 1833, the first meeting of the School of the Prophets, and thus would have experienced the great outpouring of spiritual gifts on that day.

Of the eight volumes in the Joseph Smith Papers that have been published so far, two are in the Revelations series, two in the Histories series, one out of a planned three in the Journals series, and now volumes 1 and 2 in the Documents series.

Content from the volumes typically appears online with about an 18-month lag at the project website, in addition to more that will not appear in print, said Matthew J. Grow, publications director for the Church History Department. For example, the Manuscript History of the Church will eventually appear in its entirety online.

Volume 3 of the Documents series will be published next year, and in 2014 the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon is planned for publication, Brother Grow said.