An interview with Joseph Smith Papers editors: Part 2 of 2

Thanks again to the crew of the JSPP for their participation. Part 1 available here.

Stapley: The Papers’ General Editors wrote in the introduction to Journals 1 that the project “gathered every known Joseph Smith document” for publication. I noticed in note 30 of page 61 that it indicated that several patriarchal blessings delivered by Joseph Smith will be published in future volumes. Will the Patriarchal Blessing Book have a volume of its own? Note 47 on page 67, which introduced the Kirtland Egyptian Papers (KEP), did not carry a similar indication. Will the KEP be published, and if not why would they not be considered a Joseph Smith Document? The Nauvoo Council of Fifty Minutes are another document that folks (myself included) have pointed to as not being definitively commented on for inclusion.

Mark: We classify the patriarchal blessings given by Joseph Smith Jr. as JS texts and will include them in the Documents series. Some of the KEP material has JS handwriting and therefore meets our criteria for document inclusion. So this material will also appear in the Documents series. Other KEP manuscripts do not contain JS’s handwriting and are of uncertain authorship. Because these documents do not meet our criteria they will not be included in the Documents series. It is possible that they will appear later down the road as auxiliary material in a Book of Abraham volume in the Revelations and Translations series. We haven’t gotten that far yet. Same with the Council of 50 minutes.

Robin: One of the most misunderstood aspects of our work derives from our document selection process. The Joseph Smith Papers is not a collection of documents about Joseph Smith (a documentary history) but a comprehensive collection of documents created by, for, or owned by Smith (a “papers project”). Some people are surprised when they find out we are not publishing the Hurlbut affidavits, for instance. This is not like Dan Vogel’s important Early Mormon Documents series. As a result we’re limited on the criteria we have implemented. When JS stops keeping records, we have a lull in the flow of documents we are publishing. The Book of Mormon translation period is the center of many reminiscent accounts, but almost nothing by way of contemporary documentation other than revelations. JS’s attempt at documenting “Zion’s Camp” failed and as a result we’re left with a very small number of letters and other documents. The latter half of 1836 and 1837 seems to be a “black hole” of record keeping for JS—I think you see the problem. If the document fits our criteria of a Joseph Smith document, we’ll publish it; if not, we won’t.

Stapley: I don’t think I understand the classification rubric used for inclusion. Why would the KEP, with which project JS was involved and portions of which were written by him, not be considered his papers, whereas a letter written by a scribe or ghostwriter might be?

Mark: Rather than being applied to a group of related documents, the classification rubric is applied individually on a document-by-document basis. The key criterion is authorship (liberally defined). We don’t know that JS should be considered an author of each document belonging to the KEP.

Robin: There are a range of definitions as to what might be considered a JS document—all centered on his involvement in the creation of the document. There is the obvious—a letter or other document that he himself conceived, wrote, and signed. Few documents meet this standard. Even Dean C. Jessee’s Personal Writings of Joseph Smith follows more liberal selection criteria. And The Joseph Smith Papers are far more liberal than that. But we do have to draw the line somewhere. We simply cannot publish everything which might have had some JS involvement. Let’s look at a few examples in order to get a feel for what we might include. JS conveyed his views on the national government to W. W. Phelps and assigned him to write them up for a publication, which then appeared under JS’s name. Although JS did not compose this document, he commissioned it and claimed it as his own. We will publish these types of documents (explaining in an introduction the commission and the ghost-writing). What about the Nauvoo City papers created under JS’s tenure as Mayor? Nauvoo city produced many documents during this period—some with direct involvement from JS and others because of law, policy, or other procedural workings of the government. The questions of authorship will be taken to each document, but the more JS is directly involved the better chance it will appear in our edition. JS wrote that the church should keep careful records of baptisms for the dead. Does this mean that all such records—which are still being created—are JS documents? JS instructed Mormon elders to keep journals. Does this make them JS documents? Of course not. The point is that there is a wide spectrum of what must be thought through and considered for inclusion. We’ve tried to consider everything and we’ve taken a liberal approach to selection, but we do have to draw the line somewhere. And, the burden of proof rests on the demonstration of JS authorship. Did JS have some kind of authorial oversight controlling the production of the various KEP documents? Or was it more of a collegial endeavor? We don’t know.

Stapley: You mentioned that the KEP portions would be included in the Documents series. I understand that the Revelations will appear there as well as in the Revelations and Translations series. Could you explain what exactly the Documents series is and how documents that appear there will be treated differently from the other series?

Mark: You can think of the Documents series as the master series of the edition. Imagine the entire corpus of Joseph Smith documents arranged in chronological order. Most of these documents can be dated with a single date or they can be dated to within a short period. And, most are relatively short: one to twenty pages in length. If you dipped into a section of this chronologically arranged collection, you might come across a letter followed by a revelation followed by another letter, followed by a written agreement, and so forth. However, a relatively small number of very large documents disrupt this document-to-document march through the days and months of JS’s life. The journals, the histories, and the record books—which might cover a year of JS’s life or more—don’t fit well in this arrangement. We have pulled these documents out of the Documents series and put them in the Journals series, the History series, and the Administrative Records series. The massive Book of Mormon will appear in the Revelations and Translations series. Also, while most of the legal documents are short, they make little sense if they are not gathered together with the other documents belonging to the same legal case, which might stretch over many years. So, rather than publishing the legal documents in the chronologically arranged Documents series, they will be gathered by case and published in the Legal and Business series.

Robin: The major difference between the revelations as they appear in the Documents series and in the Revelations and Translations series is how they are presented. The document series, as a chronological construct, treats the revelations in the order of their reception. In most cases, we don’t have the documents in which these revelations were initially inscribed. So we do a careful analysis of the extant versions to determine the most original. The text of this version then stands as the “copy text” for the original revelation and falls into the chronologically arranged Documents series by the date the revelation was originally received (not the date on which the best extant version was inscribed). In addition to arranging the revelations in this chronological order, the Documents series also places them in their original historical context. While the document’s source note will provide information regarding the provenance of the featured version, its historical introduction will provide the background and context of the revelation as originally received. This selection and annotation methodology applies throughout the Documents series—not just for the revelations. We are using the Revelations and Translations series to provide some special treatments for the revelations. Dean Jessee has described it as the crowning series of the JSP. The first volume—to be published this year—will include two extant manuscript revelation books, which contain most of the earliest known texts of the revelations. Whereas the individual revelations are the featured texts in the Documents series, in this volume the revelation books themselves will be the featured texts. The introductions, then, will concern the historical creation of the copy books, not the content of the individual revelations found therein. So, for information on the historical background of any single revelation one should consult the Documents series, while a researcher who needs more information on the documentary context may turn to the Revelations and Translations series.

Stapley: What future volumes are each of you working on and can you give us any insight as to what fun to expect in them?

Mark: I have been working on the third (and final) volume of the Journals series and on the first volume of the History series. The principle contribution of J3 will be the accuracy of the transcript. We just haven’t yet seen a great transcript (much of this thanks to the scrawling of Willard Richards). Consider, for example, the entry for 30 June 1843 as transcribed in a previously published edition of the journal. JS speaks of “One spiritual minded circuit Judge and several fit men” (Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, 390). Our transcript is significantly different: “one spindle shanked circuit Judg[e] – & several fat men”. I think the principle contribution of H1, aside from the transcripts, will be the volume’s editorial information on the beginning of JS’s historical efforts and the larger context of early Mormon record keeping.

Robin: I too am working on the third volume of the Journals series. I am currently working on a very exciting volume which will coming out this year: the first volume of the Revelation and Translation series. This volume contains two manuscript revelation books. One of which—the so-called “Kirtland Revelation Book”—has been published in various media and quality in the past. The second manuscript revelation volume is actually the one composed first: the “Book of Commandments and Revelations,” which has never been published before. For most of the early JS revelations, this books contains the earliest extant versions, and it contains the only extant version of the so-called “Canadian copyright” revelation (see here). This is an exciting time for Mormon textual studies.


  1. Steve Evans says:

    Incredibly interesting. I am very curious as to the content of the Revelation & Translation series. For example, will it include the extant Book of Mormon MS? A 1st ed. text?

  2. From what I understand, Steve, Royal Skousen will be the editor for that volume. I imagine it’ll be the original manuscript, but I’m not sure.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Any idea yet how the JST will be handled in the Revelation and Translation series, especially given that there is already a (very big and very expensive) critical edition of the manuscripts, including pictures from the JS marked Bible?

  4. Kev., I wish I would have asked them about both the BoM and the JST. Hopefully one of them will stop by and comment.

  5. Nice work on the interview, J. Every one sounds like a must-have volume.

  6. Kevin, from what I understand, the editors feel there are a lot of problems with the Faulring volume, and so expect to see at least one volume in the R series dedicated to the JST.

  7. Robin Jensen says:

    The redundancy of published documents is not unique to papers projects centered on Mormonism or Joseph Smith. Some papers (especially letters) of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson have been published multiple times in multiple collected works. Like our first volume, recent publications normally correct or improve upon an earlier version. But we’re not always talking about older versions being surpassed by newer publications. The Adams and Jefferson correspondence is found in both papers projects published about the same time with, at times, different readings.

    Mormon documents have had a rich publication history from the serialized “History of Joseph Smith” in the Times and Seasons and Deseret News, the B. H. Roberts publication of the history Joseph initiated in 1838, to the explosion of documentary editing works being published today. The Book of Mormon manuscripts and the Bible revision manuscripts have both been published recently in scholarly venues (Royal Skousen’s work on the Book of Mormon through FARMS and Scott Faulring, Kent Jackson, and Robert Mathews’ publication of the Bible revision manuscript through BYU Religious Studies Center). Because we’re publishing all of JS’s papers, we are committed to produce both sets of records. Unfortunately, we’ve only had preliminary discussions and I can’t give a firm answer to the questions. The presentation, methodology, and amount of redundancy between our publication and earlier publications of the same records is yet to be determined.

    We’ve also talked about providing some sort of photographic reproduction of the significant publications of scriptures during JS’s lifetime, but again, it’s been done before to some extent and we haven’t finalized the format or methodology.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    OK, thanks for the insight, Robin.

  9. Steve Evans says:

    Thanks Robin. Very helpful stuff. We owe you a Twix bar or something for your great answers.

  10. Robin Jensen says:

    Wait, this is the filthy lucre you promised me? What a jip. I’m going to go have a chat with David G.

  11. Steve Evans says:

    I didn’t say a whole Twix, man. You get one of them. But it is still the only chocolate candy with the cookie crunch, so be grateful.

  12. Hehe, although we JI-ers are poor grad students (as opposed to the wealthy attorneys/scientists/doctors/Dialogue editors of BCC), I think we can come up with something better than a lousy Twix bar.

  13. Snickers? Butterfinger? Baby Ruth?

  14. Steve Evans says:

    You guys play hardball!

  15. Great interview, again. This is fascinating.

  16. I’m interested in the concept of critical editions of the BoM and D&C. I wonder if they’ll be able to do it, given the numerous changes that have been made to the authorized texts over the years. While I don’t think the Church is running away from its history with the JSPP, there are so many levels of oversight involved when scripture enters the picture that I worry that some correlation committee, scripture committee, or other entity will make decisions that limit the scholars’ ability to freely interact with and interpret these important documents.

  17. SteveS, I’m not sure a critical edition of the D&C makes much sense. As Robin notes, the Documents series will contain the earliest extant version of each revelation and R1 will include the entire 1832 Revelations book as well as the Kirtland Revelations Book (both images and multi-color typescript). Hard to get more critical than that. Some of the changes or additions to the D&C over the years have been considered prophetic. I would imagine that the new research has yielded enough correction to revelation headers to warrant a new edition of the D&C for the Church, however.

    As far as the BoM goes, we’ll have to see what the JSPP folks choose to do, but wasn’t skousen doing this anyway?

    It is also important to note that correlation doesn’t touch the JSPP.

  18. Robin Jensen says:

    The term “critical edition” is used with a whole spectrum of meanings. Steve S, if by “critical edition” you mean a scholarly presentation of the text as they exist on paper, J. Stapely is right, we’re doing the best we can to present that now and it should be apparent in the upcoming volume that we did our very best to present the text in its original state. If by critical edition you mean a scholarly reconstruction of the non-extant, original dictated copies of revelations or the missing portions of the Book of Mormon manuscript, then it’s a good question. If you mean a thorough analysis of the textual variants or changes, than that too is a good question. For purposes here, I’ll assume you’re asking good questions (I’m not an emoticon kind of guy, but just assume I’m placing an emoticon here to represent the fact that I’m joking/kidding/being funny with that last sentence).

    “Critical edition” in documentary editing circles (especially literary documentary editing) is all about getting to the authors original intent. When scholars attempt to reconstruct the original reading of a novel written in the 19th century, for instance, they will analyze the serialized version of that novel, the 1st and 2nd edition, and the letters from the author to the printers (I’m obviously making up an example here). Without the original manuscript, scholars will compare the differences and make a conjecture as to the reading of the original. We will be doing that to an extent. Within the Documents series, the revelations will be published using the earliest and/or best copy of that revelation, but in almost all cases, it is not the version JS dictated as he received it. Textual footnotes will discuss the significant changes made to those revelations through the printing of those revelations during JS’s lifetime (the Joseph Smith Papers will not be analyzing variant changes after JS’s death). However, we’re still using as a base text, a scholarly transcription of a manuscript copy of that revelation. Thus in the text, readers will be getting what we feel is the earliest/best version available, and in the footnotes readers will be getting a textual variant analysis of the revelation text in general.

    We differ, then, from the work Skousen is currently working on. Skousen has published the typographical facsimiles of the original Book of Mormon manuscripts and the printer’s copy of the Book of Mormon manuscript in two volumes (broken into three separate bindings; volume 2 has 2 parts). He is now working on his Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, which provides this textual variant study making a judgment call what the original (spoken by JS, not original manuscript) Book of Mormon text should be. He does this by analyzing all the manuscript versions and all the major editions through the 1981 edition and comparing the changes. We will not be doing what Skousen is currently doing for the Book of Mormon, and it’s to be seen if we will attempt anything for the Revelations.

    The most ambitious and difficult work—not to mention that involving the greatest conjecture—would be for someone to publish a text which they would present as the “critical edition” of JS’s scripture. Rather than reproducing a document which exists today, one would have to analyze all the extant manuscripts and published editions and take a stab at the best reading of the original, non-extant text. (Think Biblical textual analysis and the ultimate goal of getting to the original text.) The scholars on Joseph Smith Papers have no current plans to do this sort of work.

    As an aside, as I mentioned above “critical edition” is about getting to the original intent, but that’s not always the case. Second editions of works are often changed by the author and those changes are sometimes just as important as the original intent at getting to the authors meaning behind the text. These “second edition” changes applied to both the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon. Revisions were made to the revelations for the 1833 and 1835 publication of these texts and the 1837 publication of the Book of Mormon also incorporated changes made by Smith. What would be the “critical edition” of JS’s scripture? Because Mormonism is built on continuing revelation, the later changes cannot be discounted, but for historical purposes, it would be important to reconstruct the texts as they first were spoken by Smith. It’s a complication to an already complex scholarly endeavor. I’ll reiterate what I said in the interview: “This is an exciting time for Mormon textual studies.”

  19. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    I would add that the critical text tradition of the literary editors grew out of biblical and classical studies where extant manuscripts are far removed from originals and where filiation, variants, and crux-busting are a huge issue. Historical documentary editors in America, building on the work of the early founding fathers editions, have taken a different road. They are usually in possession of the archetype–the original manuscript–and can present not only the original text but a representation of the text as artifact. So historical documentary editing concerns itself more with copy text selection and exact transcription. The Joseph Smith Papers basically follows this tradition of historical documentary editing.

  20. Thanks again, J., Mark, and Robin.

  21. Fascinating stuff, all. Thanks for doing this.

  22. I think Mark’s point about the different traditions of critical text verses historical document is an important distinction to keep in mind.
    Even in the Revelations and Translations section they are still historical document people, and it is a much easier process to deal with texts you really have than to guess at what texts you do not have are.
    I would have to say that the process that they are going through is a more useful one than the guessing, and one where we can say definitively that they are true to the historical documents.

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