Review: The Joseph Smith Papers, Published Revelations

At an early release publicity event, volume editor Robin Jensen stood at a table and grabbed a pile of what seemed to be spiral bound reams of paper. These were the research materials deprecated by the single new volume celebrated at the meeting. Volume 2 in the Revelations and Translations series of the Joseph Smith Papers presents a battery of materials, heretofore available to researchers, but in very inconvenient or unreliable formats. For example, before this volume was published, the easiest way to access images of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants was on an anti-Mormon website. Published Revelations (hereafter referred to as R2) delivers in the most important ways and it provides some tantalizing pathways for researchers to approach the texts of interest. The JSP team have wielded their sharpened editorial skills to present the texts of Joseph Smith’s (et al.) revelations as they were variously published during his lifetime, using a mix of transcripts and duotone facsimiles. In the days immediately following this review, we will also be publishing an interview with Jensen, in which he discusses some interesting aspects of the volume and its documents.

As with my reviews of previous volumes (J1 and MRB, note that R1 is now in print and comprises the material presented in MRB without the facsimile images) I offer an overview of R2 by section:

Published Revelations

JSP, R2: Published Revelations

Robin Scott Jensen, Richard E. Turley Jr., and Riley Lorimer, eds., Revelations and Translations, Volume 2: Published Revelations in THE JOSEPH SMITH PAPERS, general editors Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2011). xlii, 726 pp. Cloth: $69.95; ISBN: 978-1-60641-942-7.

R2 returns the JSP volumes to the format of J1, which will be the general norm for forthcoming volumes–oversized 7″x10″, off-white pages, bound in the trademark died-through blue linen, and gold printing.

As is the plan for every volume, R2 opens with a detailed contents, JS timeline and map highlighting the residences of JS during his life. This boilerplate material is followed by the “Volume Introduction,” which is an excellent overview of the various sources of published revelations (note, however, that broadsheet printings were not included in this volume). During JS’s lifetime, Mormons published their revelations in five textual repositories:

  • Book of Commandments (1833)
  • The Evening and the Morning Star, edited and reprinted as the Evening and Morning Star
  • 1835 Doctrine and Covenants
  • 1844 Doctrine and Covenants

The introduction gives one-to-two page overviews of each of these sources and provides a handy chart, which illustrates the textual dependency between them (xxii). In fact, textual relationship is a prime consideration of the editors, who state that a “central objective of the footnotes” contained in the volume “is to identify, wherever possible, the immediate source text or texts for the printed revelations included in this volume” (xxi). Consequently, don’t expect lots of annotation (think MRB).

The introduction also includes a brief section on “Oral and Print Cultures of Early Mormonism” and an “Epilogue,” which briefly introduces the reader to the use of printed revelations in the succession crisis after JS’s death. Both bare the watermark of Robin Jensen and, particularly the material on oral and print culture will encourage the reader towards his important MLS thesis on the same topic.

The “Editorial Method” section describes how editors prepared and presented the texts. Many of the documents in this volume are presented as duotone facsimiles—in this case facsimiles created using two ink colors (standard color printing—CMYK—uses four) to approximate the look of the original. Think of it as a sepia-filtered photo of something that was mostly sepia tones to begin with. The published books are presented as facsimiles. The newspapers and supplemental texts are presented as transcripts.

Published Revelations Cover

R2 Cover

The sections in the balance of the volume, which comprise materials published in the 1830s and 1840s, each have detailed source notes and historical introduction. The source notes describe the particular document being presented, including provenance, and the historical material contextualizes the document generally. These introductions are the finest descriptions of the documents currently available, though readers will still find valuable supplemental information in Crawley’s Descriptive Bibliography. The information on the dates for the publications of various gatherings and issues is particularly useful. The section on the Book of Commandments, for example, includes dating for the printing of each individual signature (the technical name for the type of gathering produced from folding and cutting one printed sheet used for the BoC). These descriptions are also focused on the texts. For example, while the editors describe the 1842 transfer of the Times and Seasons printing establishment, which produced the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants, from Ebenezer Robinson to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (639), they don’t describe any of the controversy leading up to or surrounding the transaction. Unlike the annotations of the documents themselves, the footnotes in these introductions are copious. They are also unfailingly interesting.

Book of Commandments
The Book of Commandments is the single most costly volume in the collector’s market. Most researchers cannot afford the more than $1 MM price tag required to include a copy in their libraries (institutional or personal). While facsimile editions are available, this careful reproduction is consequently a great service to the scholarly community. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of its publication is the inclusion of an appendix: a “Proposed Sixth Gathering.”

Most Latter-day Saints are familiar with the story of the young Mary Rollins and her sister grabbing sheets of printed revelations while Jackson County citizens tore down Zion’s printing office. These were certainly not the only copies saved, but the bravery of these women is a connection to the Book of Commandments, copies of which were bound from the sheets of revelations. The Book of Commandments was unfinished. It ends mid revelation. And with the availability of Revelation Book 1, scholars at the JSP were able to approach a reconstruction of the final gathering that was never published.

This is only hypothetical material, as the editors note in their introduction of the Book of Commandments: “Printing standards of the day called for printers to recopy heavily edited manuscripts to proved a clean copy for typesetting. Some of the text of Revelation Book 1 was almost certainly recopied before the Book of Commandments was typeset, as evidenced by differences between the text in the marked-up Revelation Book 1 and the final printed Book of Commandments.” (8) However, the methodology employed is robust and the result is simply fascinating.

Revelations Printed in The Evening and the Morning Star
The Evening and the Morning Star was the Mormon religious newspaper in Zion (Jackson Co., MO). It prominently featured revelations and after the press was lost to the Saints, it was reprinted in Kirtland, with some silent editing. The editors present the texts of the revelations as printed in these two newspapers in parallel columnar typescripts. This presentation greatly facilitates comparative readings, as familiar to readers of Smith-Pettit’s parallel printing of revelations and of the Book of Mormon. Besides typescript accuracy (I haven’t compared between volumes, but the JSPP transcription process is more robust), R2 adds value through the annotation focused on textual relationships between various printing. This focus is realized in the presentation of the actual documents of other printed materials, as opposed to transcripts, which has advantages and disadvantages.

JSPP Volumes

JSP volumes currently published.

Doctrine and Covenants, 1835
The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants is, along with Orson Pratt’s 1876 supposed emendations, the single most influential publication with respect to the reception of revelations by Latter-day Saints throughout history. This printing includes the full text, including the section on doctrine—the Lectures on Faith—and the section of covenants—the revelation texts. The current Doctrine and Covenants does not include the Lectures, but our revelations present the unmistakable editorial handiwork of Joseph Smith’s publication committee.

Again, a bonus is offered with the inclusion of Appendix 2, which immediately follows the facsimile. Appendix 2 is the presentation of selections from Oliver Cowdery’s Book of Commandments, which bares the editorial marks used to prepare revelations for inclusion in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. Remember: textual history extravaganza. When I asked the editors why they didn’t use the Cowdery version of the BoC for the complete facsimile (and obviate the need for the appendix), they indicated that for consistency, the JSP maintains all references to a master document and the Woodruff BoC was identified as the master document before the Cowdery volume was known (for more see the interview with Robin Jensen in coming days).

Doctrine and Covenants, 1844
The 1844 Doctrine and Covenants is “largely a reprint of the 1835 edition” (639-40). There are some minor changes and a few significant changes, though the editors note that a “comprehensive study of the variants between the two editions is beyond the scope of this volume” (640n16). The 1844 volume did, however, include sections not in the 1835 edition. Those sections composed during JS’s lifetime are presented as facsimiles. I have to admit (and I realize that page count was already high), that I would have appreciated having the one other new section—John Taylor’s post martyrdom conclusion.

This section includes a short chronology for the years 1831-1835 and 1844. The “Directory of Printers” is particularly useful as it outlines participants, organizations and geographies identified with publishing the revelations over time. It also includes hefty biographical sketches of those people involved. Also extremely useful is the section on “Substitute Words” in the Doctrine and Covenants. Those old enough to remember earlier printings, are aware that pseudonyms for various people, places and organizations were part of the Doctrine and Covenants. Some still remain to this day. Thanks to RB1, we no longer have to rely on W. W. Phelps’ Utah recollection (though a comparison would be cool) as a key to unlock the textual code. Here the editors give some nice context to the practice of using substitute names as well as a wonderfully detailed table indicating the substitute word, the antecedent and where the substitution was made in the manuscripts, and 1835 published text. Unlike Phelps, the JSP editors do not offer translations.

In Revelations and Translations, Volume 2: Published Revelations, the Joseph Smith Papers editors have not only maintained their very high standard of documentary excellence, but they have transformed the scholarly approach to Joseph Smith’s revelation. The revelation texts and other materials presented in this volume are a pillar that still stands, supporting the lived religion of millions. Documenting the construction of that pillar, and the mechanics involved, the editors deftly present their unparalleled familiarity with the source material. We will all benefit from the avenues of research now open.


  1. Grant Hardy says:

    The reproduction and transcription of these early versions of the revelations is an invaluable service, but I am often interested in how the revelations were edited and transformed over time. Are there any plans to produce a critical edition of the Doctrine and Covenants as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, or will I have to continue to rely on Marquardt’s “The Joseph Smith Revelations: Text and Commentary” for this sort of analysis? Or are there other sources available that I’m not aware of?

  2. Grant, my understanding is that the Documents volumes will include the earliest extant copy of each revelation, including contextual introductions and annotation referencing other versions of the revelation as well as other information traditionally associated with documentary editing. I will say, however, that the data presented in MRB/R1 coupled with the publications in R2 is a very rich and unparalleled source for critically evaluating revelation texts. Fortunately, the JSP website currently includes most of the earliest revelation texts, which will later be published in the Docs volumes.

    [also I accidentally posted an un-copy edited version. I have now updated the post.]

  3. Grant,

    As of now, there is no plan to publish a critical edition to the Doctrine and Covenants. Because authorial intent is often tied up closely to these critical editions, the complication is when do we capture that authorial intent. Is it the original iteration? the 1832-33 iteration? the 1834-35 iteration? All were produced under Joseph Smith’s supervision and could claim authorial intent. The real value, as you state, would instead make a detailed comparison of changes between versions, similar to Skousen’s work on the Book of Mormon. Robert Woodford’s dissertation, though dated and not benefiting from the Book of Commandments and Revelations manuscript, is still an invaluable source for understanding the changes to the revelations. And as J. indicates, between MRB/R1 and R2, there is important data presented that help scholars trace these changes. And when the Documents Series is presented, the important historical and early textual analysis will be made available.

  4. Grant Hardy says:

    But each researcher interested in a particular section of the Doctrine and Covenants will have to personally compile a list of variants to track changes over time, right? There is no question that R1 and R2 constitute an unparalleled resource, yet the editors are still leaving a lot of work for individual scholars who could benefit from their keen eyes and experience with the manuscripts (not to mention saving a great deal of duplicated effort).

  5. Grant Hardy says:

    Thanks, Robin. I posted before I saw your response.

  6. Is the Robert Woodford’s dissertation available in electronic format yet? I ordered a paper copy of it years ago, but I’m sure my wife chucked it in the last move.

  7. John, BYU Studies released a version on CD-ROM (or DVD, I forget), but it is no longer available. If you have access to an academic library, you can download a PDF for free through UMI. You can also buy a paper copy from them as well. Woodford’s dissy is extraordinary, but as Robin notes, it is extremely dated, not incorporating information from either the JS or Clayton diary. It relies on the HC and doesn’t include most of the manuscript materials now available. If you go into it knowing this, it is still quite handy.

  8. Steve Evans says:

    This may sound stupid, but why is the appendix titled “Proposed Sixth Gathering”?

  9. Not stupid at all, Steve. Like other books, the BoC is made of “gatherings” which were sewn together. A gathering in this case was a printed sheet that would be folded down, and then the edges were cut. The result is sort of a booklet with a fold in the middle. If you look down at the top of a quality book binding, you can see the gatherings. For reasons present in the appendix introduction, the JSP editors conclude that the there was only 1 remaining BoC gathering to be printed when the printing office was attacked. The text presented in the appendix is a hypothetical text that the editors propose would have been printed had the process not been interrupted.

  10. John, you can get copies from Pro Quest. Search under “Woodford, Robert.” PDF is $37.00. A bound hard copy is $108.00.

  11. Great review, J.

  12. Thanks for the review, J.

  13. Excellent, J. Thank you!

  14. Thanks for the review. I look forward to the interview with Robin.

  15. Steve Evans says:

    Great stuff.

  16. Great stuff, J! Congrats to the JSP Team.

  17. An excellent publication like this can be a tough thing to review, J., and I really appreciate your efforts in that regard. And congrats again to those who worked on the volume.

  18. “Unlike Phelps, the JSP editors do not offer translations.”

    Perhaps the only flaw of the volume! Love the book, love the review.

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