The following post is the contribution of Tom, one of our regular commenters.
I am pleased to report that next year’s Relief Society/Priesthood manual has been released: Joseph Smith. This is a good book; I would argue that for those who may have found faults with previous manuals will find, upon a quick glance, much to be pleased with. In my own opinion, this is the best manual to be released by correlation.
The book is thick. It will be used for the next two years; it contains 47 chapters and an appendix.
The best thing about the book is its transparency (if I’m not using the correct terms, I apologize; I must admit I’m a computer scientist, not a historian). The book uses original sources for many of its quotations. It’s nice to read footnotes that say things like “Quoted by William Clayton, reporting an undated discourse given by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois; in L. John Nuttall, ‘Extracts from William Clayton’s Private Book,’ p. 7, Journals of L. John Nuttall, 1857-1904, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; copy in Church archives.” and “William Smith, interview by E. C. Briggs and J. W. Peterson, Oct. or Nov. 1893, originally published in Zion’s Ensign (periodical published by the Reoganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now called Community of Christ); reprinted in Deseret Evening News, Jan. 20, 1894, p. 2; punctuation modernized.” (footnotes to Chapter 2)
I have searched in vain for a reference to books such as Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, or Sayings of Joseph Smith. They go to the original sources for many of the sources.
Probably over half of the quotations are taken from the [Documentative] History of the Church. However, before anyone starts talking about the potential problems in relying on Joseph’s words as written in the HotC, there is a six-page appendix that discusses the sources used, with four of those pages being about the history of the HotC in particular. It discusses that the compilers made changes to the original documents, including “combining accounts… changing accounts from third person to first person… adding or changing words or phrases” (p. 561-562). It discusses that the Prophet kept his journals through scribes. It describes that “while some lengthy reports of his addresses exist, most are summarizations of the messages delivered by the Prophet. Unfortunately, there is no record for many of the discourses given by Joseph Smith” (p. 558).
The introductory material is much the same as with previous presidents of the Church, but includes a brief explanation of why certain topics were chosen to be discusses (because they are applicable to our modern society). It also discusses that some topics will not be discussed and mentions the United Order and plural marriage as two such topics. To me, the fact that the manual even mentions these topics, and says that several marriages “were performed” (implying to Joseph, I’d assume), is amazing. This is a fantastic manual, considering where it comes from.
The manual is available at Church Distribution Centers. It is $3.00 (I work at Distribution, so I bought it five minutes after we received it from the truck).