Soon 2008 will pass away as all things must, and 2009 will bring with it the standard changes in Sunday meeting time slots, primary classes, and, most delightfully, Gospel Doctrine curriculum. You see, on January 4, we will meet together and study the old testament of our own fashioning. Concomitant with such shifts is an offering by Deseret Book to enrich the lives of the Saints. Two years ago, the offerings were excellent; last year, not so much. This year we have an intriguing volume…let’s see how it stacks up.
Steven C. Harper, Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants: A Guided Tour through Modern Revelations. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2008. 601 pp. Endnotes, index. Non-cloth Hardback. $35.95, ISBN 978-1-59038-921-8
Harper is one of the Revelations editors for the Joseph Smith Papers Project. His collaboratively edited volume 1 in the series is due out in the first quarter of 2009. Making Sense, however is a different sort of project. The introduction section of the volume, which chronicles the development of the Doctrine and Covenants, is explicitly apologetic, something to expect in a volume marketed to Latter-day Saints generally. For example, Harper briefly covers the major printings of the book and their significance, but when he describes the removal of the “Lectures on Faith” in 1921, he does not include that the “Lectures” were considered in 1835 to be the “Doctrine” section of the Doctrine and Covenants. However, Harper does note that editorial changes to the revelations were common, affirming to the reader that such changes do not contaminate their revelatory potency.
Harper then treats each section of the Doctrine and Covenants individually. Each revelation receives three discussions: 1) Origins – basically historical context; 2) Content – revelation summary; and 3) Outcomes – history and usage of the revelation.
Typically I have used two different references in approaching the Doctrine and Covenants. They both have significant weakness, mostly due to their dated vintage:
- Robert J. Woodford, “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants,” 3 vols. (Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1974).
Whatever its merit, Woodford deserves credit for cranking out 1874 pages of dissertation. BYU Studies released a digital version a couple of years ago. I don’t know about the digital version, but the hard copy is tedious in its comparison of every known (as of 1974) manuscript of the revelations. It has a nice introduction of the various volumes of the Doctrine and Covenants and has historical background for each section. Unfortunately some of Woodford’s work was limited due to the availability of certain archival materials. For example, William Clayton’s diaries were not available for researches at the time. Still, his textual development sections come in mighty handy.
- Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants (Provo: Seventy’s Mission Bookstore, 1981).
This out of print book goes for expensive on the used market, but is available in the various digital Mormon databases (Gospelink; LDSLibrary). Cook has no commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants as a whole, but includes for each section the putative date and location for the reception of the revelation. He includes historical context for each section and biographical overviews of individuals mentioned in them. Sometimes he gives a publication note.
As a matter of comparison, I decided to look at a handful of sections and see how the three different volumes hold up. For this comparison, I am not considering textual development as only Woodford regularly treats it.
Section 76 – “The Vision”
Woodford: History of the Church (HC) account of the reception; Philo Dibble retrospective of the reception; some JS commentary from HC; Brigham Young recollection on how the revelation troubled him, but he worked through it; Orson Pratt and John Murdock diary accounts on the controversy of the revelation; JS (HC) instructing elders not to talk about the revelation in their preaching; HC and Heber C. Kimball diaries on missionaries preaching it, sometimes with controversy and loss of converts; excerpts from the poetic paraphrase, attributing it to Smith.
Cook: Philo Dibble retrospective of the reception; cites controversy, in endnotes quotes BY recollection of trouble; quotes entire poetic paraphrase (8.5 pages) and attributes it to JS.
Harper: Introduction to Calvinist cosmology; JS family background; JS letter from holograph; cites Holifield and Bushman (RSR); SUMMARY; note about the urban legend that we would commit suicide to get to Telestial kingdom, notes two likely sources, (Charles Lowell Walker diary account of Wilford Woodruff recollection and Lorin Farr recollection in a holograph High Priests minute book, 1900. Both are different than the legend); testimony of Rigdon, T&S; general devotional thoughts on an expansive heaven; testimony of Woodruff, circa 1891; BY recollection of trouble; Joseph prooftexting Paul from JS journal (cites holograph and Faulring’s Signature version!); Commentary on the sons of perdition by the FP (holograph letter, 1833); Testimony of how awesome it is from “Manuscript History.”
Winner: Harper; however, it pains me that he didn’t include or discuss the controversy of the revelation. Woodford suffers from not having holograph or critical sources for the HC excerpts and both he and Cook use the poetic paraphrase that is now generally believed to have not been written by JS. Harper repeats the word “soteriology,” and includes nice reference to pertinent literature. I was unaware of the Lorin Farr recollection.
Section 107 – Ecclesiastical Structure
Woodford: Notes that the Three Witness chose the Twelve; Kirtland Council Minutes (from holograph) of the Twelve repenting and asking for direction; HC Kimball Journal (from holograph) account of the reception; explanation how the section merges 1831 and 1835 revelations with and editor (JS?) adding a dozen verses before canonization.
Cook: Background on the apostles getting ready for missions and they ask for the revelation; indicates that it is a combo of two revelations, though not the editing; endnotes reprint the Kirtland Council Minute Book, an uncanonized revelation to the 12 (HC), School of the prophets minutes, and the JS Diary entry on removing a member of the FP (holograph).
Harper: Quotes a holograph account of William McLellin; in lengthy note 2 Harper throws down and shows how the revelation is misdated, loads of great cites; description of the combination of the two revelations plus Joseph’s editorial additions in preparation for canonization, note includes specifics; SUMMARY; quotes RSR; some modern reflection about how awesome it is.
Winner: Harper, hands down. Quibble, he seems confident that JS was the editor, and from recent conversations, I am not sure how certain that is.
Section 130 – Earth a Urim of Thumim, etc.
Woodford: HC intro; note that it was never published until Orson Pratt put it in the 1876 edition; cites the JS journal as a source.
Cook: Intro based on JS Diary; note that Richards, who kept the diary, wasn’t actually there; reproduction of the William Clayton diary (actual source); recollection of BF Johnson of the event.
Harper: Intro based on JS Journal; cites BF Johnson recollection; SUMMARY; In summary quotes from sources and note that Apostle Church Historians expanded the text; focus on what we don’t know; allusions to temple.
Winner: I like that Cook includes the source account (though Harper cites it). This one is a toss-up. I was a bit disappointed that no one got into the nitty gritty of textual construction of this revelation. E.g., Orson Pratt merged the edited Richards’ version of Clayton’s diary and Clayton’s diary. Richards’ account appears in the diary as a sermon in the Morning and that the Clayton account is of a personal exchange in the evening. The D&C combines elements of both. Vs. 1-3, 7-8 are from Richards. Vs. 4-6 and 9-11 are from Clayton (This is one of the sketchiest inclusions in the D&C).
OD2 – Priesthood Announcement
Woodford: N/A. Written before 1978.
Cook: Church leaders believed the day would come; various pressures; Kimball studied a lot; cites Church News recollections of events leading up to it; lengthy excerpt of McConkie’s BYU address where he described the revelation; FP drafted and approved by the FP & 12; announcement.
Harper: Whites used bible to justify slavery (cites contemporary non-mormon lit); Church emerged in racially charged context; Book of Mormon and early leaders explicitly support racial equity in the Church; Elijah Able (cites Armand Mauss’s All Abraham’s Children) [misses Walker Lewis, though]; Joseph grew more progressive with time; at some point (hints to after JS’s death), Church leaders created a ban – by 1849; review of Abraham and Moses and asks some great questions, “Were blacks denied the priesthood because of an inherited curse or because Latter-day Saints, conditioned by cultural prejudices, misinterpreted the Pearl of Great Price, or for some other reason?” – doesn’t answer though; Kimball not sure if doctrine or policy; “a contradictory and confusing legacy of racist religious folklore”; Elder Oaks saying folklore “spectacularly wrong” and “man made to a great extent”; revelation came; SUMMARY of the reception based on Lengthen Your Stride; McConkie describing prayer that could be “cleansed and made free from sin so that we might receive the Lord’s word”; announcement; Church leader commentary on the effect of the revelation.
Winner: Harper, FTW! I don’t think I could understate how important Harper’s write-up is for the Church. It is a giant step forward. I’m moved and surprised and delighted. Would that all Gospel Doctrine teachers read and used this.
During this exercise, I had to keep reminding myself that the Joseph Smith Papers volume is coming out in three months or so, and that Making Sense is not to be confused with that project. Making Sense is historical-devotional literature to help general Church members understand the Doctrine and Covenants. Harper’s use of cogent literature and his mastery of the source materials make for a stunning success and Deseret Book deserves credit for publishing it. Harper brings up tough issues, as in section 132 where he notes Joseph Smith’s polyandry and instances of not telling Emma about plural wives; but his faith promoting spin left me skeptical. Generally, however, he is a skillful and successful commentator. I also imagine the things that I wish Making Sense had (biographical registers and textual development) will be in the JSP. All in all, a very significant volume.
Production values of the volume are less than desirable. For $35 bucks, I would have appreciated cloth binding and a cleaner page cut. And the title is a little too self-helpy for my tastes.
Also new on the Doctrine and Covenants: Hedges, Fluhman and Gaskill, The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context: The 37th Annual Brigham Young University Sidney B. Sperry Symposium (Salt Lake City: RSC/Deseret Book, 2008). Maybe I’ll get a review of this up before the end of the year as well.