Yesterday I attended a publicity event at the Church history library formally announcing/launching the first volume of the “Documents” series of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. This is actually the seventh volume in the JSPP series, but the first Documents volume, covering the period from July 1828 to June 1831—in other words, it covers the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon, the formal organization of The Church, and many of the earliest canonized revelations.
I confess, I’m not a JSPP groupie. I mean, I own several of the volumes and have used (and will continue to use) them as valuable resources. The books are well-put-together in every sense: they’re well written, well organized, and aesthetically gorgeous volumes. But I haven’t read them with the kind of reverential fervor of some of my nerdiest MoHistory friends, nor have I waited with mounting anticipation the release of whatever volume happens to be coming next. So, in some sense, I was the target audience for this PR event: an educated Mormon, familiar with the project, in whom they hoped to elicit some genuine excitement about this volume and the launch of the Documents series.
To my surprise, their strategy appears to have worked. I spent less than an hour at the library, much of it sitting and listening to prepared boilerplate about the volume. But I found myself sincerely intrigued by it, and once the formal presentation was over and I could spend some time thumbing through the volume on my own (while editors, archivists, and Church historians recorded interviews with local news outlets), my intrigue morphed into genuine excitement.
I’m not going to do the Project’s job of trying to sell the (decidedly not inexpensive) volume to you. But I will highlight a few of the things that caught my attention.
–D&C Section 19, traditionally understood to have been received to coincide with the organization of the Church in April 1830, is now dated to the previous summer.
–It appears that what we now know as Chapter 1 of The Book of Moses was originally presented as an independent revelation, not formally attached to the JSJ’s project of revising/retranslating the Bible.
–It looks like the “caracters” image, the slip of paper with characters putatively taken from the gold plates, which we traditionally associate with Harris’ visit to Professor Anthon, is not what Harris actually took with him. On a related note, apparently it was quite common for images containing Book of Mormon characters to circulate publicly in early LDS circles.
–This volume contains, in Appendix 2, a copy the contract/agreement between Josiah Stowell and two groups of investors to hire Joseph Smith, his father, and three other men to locate and uncover buried treasure in Novembe 1825, reproduced in print in the Salt Lake Tribune in 1880. The volume notes that neither the original contract nor the Susquahanah County newspaper in which it originally appeared are extant, but nevertheless describes the contents of the Tribune’s account as “fit[ting] historically with known events.” That the series editors judged the agreement, a straightforward acknowledgment of JSJ’s history of “money digging” or treasure-seeking, worthy of inclusion in this volume is, I think, rather noteworthy.
Note: Documents Volume 1 will is available for pre-order now and will be on shelves in a few weeks. Volume 2 is slated for release at the beginning of December 2013.