Revelations in Context (yay)

This morning Ardis broke the news of the Church’s new digital resource for approaching the texts in the Doctrine and Covenants. Revelations in Context, the name alone stirs the soul.

There is a lot to like here, and I think it is an enormous step forward. There are some really interesting things to note. First some comments on structure. Each article is presented by an author (well, in all but one case). What this allows, I think, is a recognition that there is no complete and authoritative context to an historical event. What we have is one individual’s effort to help us enter the world of our past. Supporting such authors is, I believe, evidence of pedagogy that values a critical approach not only to sources and documents, but also to ideas. While this is a step forward, I think that it is also a path forward to more and better ideas.

The authors of these articles quote from and cite documents in the Joseph Smith papers, to be certain, but there are also citations to material and secondary treatments in the academic literature. Again, this isn’t just communications in discrete articles, it is opening a door to a different world. Mormonism is graced with vast mountains of source material and scholarship. Personally (and your mileage may vary) engaging this material has enhanced and amplified my feelings and beliefs and sometimes in surprising ways. But I bleed more Mormon now than I ever have; so I can’t help but be excited for resources that not only value this heritage and approach, but also facilitate access to it. Also, I’m sure Kristine is delighted to see her journal cited on occasion.

There are some remainders of yesteryear: e.g., the anachronistic use of “Urim and Thummim.” And some ideas aren’t as clearly presented as in the introductions and notes of the Joseph Smith Papers volume (e.g., Martin Harris’s trip to meet the eastern scholars). But this is also not a strictly scholarly enterprise. This is a church resource to help church members and I imagine that a working premise is that context can enhance devotion. It’s a premise that I believe in. In my first reading of a couple sections I was wanting more and better scholarship, but after re-reading and thinking about it, I think I may have been mistaken. Many of the articles are great. And while there is certainly room for improvement (as is the case with any project, generally speaking), in every case, there is a lot that will be new and helpful to most readers. This is the beginning.

So a hearty thank you to Church leaders who believed in this project and my gratitude for everyone who has been working on it.


  1. Amen. This is wonderful, and bodes well for the future.

  2. Indeed, thanks to all involved. Exciting that there are explicit references to things like seer stones and diving rods in a source that should be readily available to all members.

  3. J, I hadn’t thought about the impact of ascribing these resources to individual scholars, rather than anonymous statements, but I agree that is a huge step forward. Also, I may be wrong, but I believe that this is the first official church reference to Martin Harris also visiting Samuel Mitchell in addition to Charles Anthon, and a more nuanced version of that story. I’ve enjoyed everything I have seen so far.

  4. I have loved what I have seen of this. It’s hard to explain how excited I am that this is happening.

  5. Whoa, it cites Dialogue?! That’s a major step in cred, to all the people who won’t read it!

    Also, to the powers that be, can we please PLEASE get good quality stuff like this when we do OT and NT?

  6. Could you give a little meat to your throw-away comment on the Urim and Thummim?

    I’m guessing I’m missing something, here.

  7. J. Stapley says:

    D, the Book of Mormon was translated and various revelations where received with the use of various media that were later (just a few years really), called urim and thummim. Contextually, such things matter.

    Ben, I think the problem there is that while we have really top notch historians and a historical dept. within the church, we don’t really have similar things for the OT and NT.

  8. #7 – It would be beyond exciting to have materials like this project on the OT and NT – especially if they included things from non-Mormon sources. There are amazing resources available, as you know even better than I do.

    For anyone with connections I don’t have (which means pretty much any connections), it would be great if that message was sent up the chain.

  9. J. Stately, not working in the church historical department but I know a top notch New Testament scholar in my non scholar humble opinion that works for a certain university that shall remain nameless, who is currently serving as RS president. In a certain ward that had been involved in curriculum development in the past, not as a job but as a from near the top kind of calling, she is amazingly knowledgeable and humble and I dream of the day that all Gospel Doctrine New Testament classes be up to her standard. I’d almost quit nursery for that. Or maybe they could just pipe the lesson into the nursery room, but she still needs to be the Relief Society president, I just want all the things my way.

  10. Ben makes a good point though, in the sense that it would be fairly easy to group some well-credentialed members to do things like this for the OT and NT. But this is a giant step anyway.

  11. J. Stapley says:

    Sorry, by “within the church” I meant working for the church. I agree that we have some great talent around.

  12. J Stapley: sorry, I should have been more specific — is your claim simply that the phrase “urim and thumim” is used too often when some other phrase(s) would be more appropriate? Or is it something else?

  13. J. Stapley says:

    Yeah, it is frequently anachronistic and obfuscates what media was actually being used.

  14. J. Stapley congrats my phone auto correct promoted you from Stapley to Stately. It’s kind of proactive. It’s an honor really. Often I get demoted to Doggie.

  15. Okay. Thanks.

  16. Thanks for the laughs Dovie. Explaining why I laughed out loud to my nine year old, led to a cool discussion with her about historical context and autocorrect. She brushed off the history lesson but is quite taken with your name being demoted to Doggie.

  17. cites Dialogue. That’s it. The circle is complete. No longer always winter but never Christmas. An end to the great war. The End. Go home.

  18. I am loving being able to brag to others in the church about the awesome materials being published for everyone. Hoping that future manuals incorporate / point to it, require teachers to be engaged with it.

  19. Love that Oliver Cowdery essay. I’m not bothered by the reference to the U&T.

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