If you haven’t seen any of the Joseph Smith Papers Project volumes, then I want to draw your attention to the excellent materials available in the volumes in addition to the actual source documents themselves. I’ll take one example from Revelations and Translations vol. 2, which contains instances of the Book of Commandments and the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants in facsimile (I mean scans of a sort). The volume editors (Robin Scott Jensen, Richard E. Turley, Jr. and Riley Lorimer) offer the following thoughts on page xxv:
Printing the revelations put greater distance between the reader of the text and the persons who originally dictated and recorded it. Before publication, hearers or readers likely would have learned about a text’s creation or accepted interpretation from Joseph Smith or from his close associates. Once the text was printed, however, it generally had to stand on its own. Those who prepared the revelations for publication, therefore, sometimes provided additional contextual information. For example, they often inserted surnames and brief introductions. Nevertheless, because no oral and little written introduction accompanied the individual printed revelation texts, the revelations became more autonomous, meaning that members could increasingly interpret the texts outside of their original context and intended meaning.
I think this points to one of the issues with the current Doctrine and Covenants. It is generally used as a selective doctrine/practice poach-fest. It may be one of the most decontextualized books in the world. I’m curious about several things here:
1. Do you single out the Doctrine and Covenants for separate study? If you have children, do you read the D&C with them?
2. If so, do you read straight through?
3. Assuming you use them, do you find the headnotes useful?
4. What about footnotes? The practice of using a kind of word chase in constructing many of the notes is, I think, somewhat counterproductive in understanding the D&C. Do you agree? (I admit here that I tend to think of the revelations as historical documents as well as devotional material.)
5. The texts of the revelations tend to have subtle alterations of presentation over time – I mean as Joseph Smith “matures” the language of later revelations offers subtle differences. Do you find earlier revelations easier to understand than later ones? (For purposes of this post, let’s assume we’re not excluding any of the sections even though they may have originated as letters, etc.)
6. Do you find a commentary a necessary sidekick when studying the D&C? If so, what do you recommend?
7. Should study of the D&C be disconnected from the historical context and meaning of the individual revelations?
8. What about those revelations which were altered over time? Do you think earlier texts of a given revelation are important or irrelevant?
9. Do you think the D&C may/should expand by the addition of later written revelations (there are some 19th century examples from John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and Orson Hyde for example) or existing proclamations/declarations?