News from the Joseph Smith Papers Project

9831536As the Joseph Smith Papers Project releases the first volume of what will be a multi-volume series of documents, the editors have reaffirmed that the series will be as comprehensive and as open as possible. At an event to celebrate the publication of Documents, Volume 1, Assistant Church Historian and Recorder Richard E. Turley Jr. said:

“We have not withheld any documents for this series. There may be an odd document or two of which we are not aware. But all of the thousands of documents that we have found relating to the life and work of Joseph Smith will eventually be included.”

For many researchers, there has always been a hope that this would be the case, but always a shadow of uncertainty with respect to one set of documents in particular—the much whispered-about Council of Fifty minutes. Now those uncertainties have been fully addressed. The announcement came from Elder Steven E. Snow, the Church Historian and Recorder, as quoted in a just-released article by the Church News.

Elder Snow said a few days prior to this recent announcement that the First Presidency “has approved the Church History Department staff to use the Council of Fifty minutes as reference and footnote material in upcoming Joseph Smith Papers books and to eventually publish the minutes in full as a separate volume.”

We applaud this wonderful announcement and the openness and trust that it represents on the part of the First Presidency.


  1. Actually Turley isn’t being truthful in his statement “an odd document or two of which we are unaware”, because he is aware of numerous documents in a private collection that will not be included because by “not being honest in his dealings with his fellow man” he has so damaged the LDS Church’s relationship with the owner that he can no longer get access to them.

  2. Sounds like John has an axe that doesn’t need sharpening.

    Thanks for this update, Morgan. I’m excited to see it all when the project finally is done – and each step along the way.

  3. This is the most anticipated news in a long, long time in the world of Mormon history geekdom.

  4. This is really fantastic

  5. Great news!!!!!!

    Stay classy, John H.

  6. Awesome!

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Insert Snoopy happy dance here…

  8. Oh, well, I apologize. I shouldn’t pick on him, he is basically trying to do the right thing. Maybe he just forgot the JSP are going to be incomplete. One of many, many “odd” documents missing (this one that he actually might be “not aware” of), is a court case I have involving Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon as they traveled from Nauvoo to Washington, D.C. in 1839. But that is one of a hundred appropriate to be called Joseph Smith papers, that I can publish under that title myself. Rick is an exceptionally likable person. He sent me a nice thank you letter (and book) after visiting my house a couple of years ago to look at some documents. And he writes great books, and I buy a lot of them as gifts for others. I’m just a little hurt right now. The LDS Church has not been honest in their dealings with me as their fellow man. Isn’t that a temple recommend question? And it has been really hard on my family as I’ve struggled with the recession and raising two special-needs teenagers by myself, and have my other child graduate from BYU. Among other things, Rick argued under oath that he didn’t know (or wasn’t the one to ask) if the LDS Church had twelve apostles or twenty-four, given that there were two corporations sole (COP and CPB). I think the CHL should treat former-Wisconsinite Mormons as well as they treat the Community of Christ from a public relations point of view. Remember when they gave the Book of Commandments back to the RLDS, just because it was the right thing to do? That was dealing honestly. And look what the Community of Christ is loaning to the JSPP because of the smart public relations.

  9. *Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon as defendants.

  10. This really is great news and it means I’ll have to make a change in the D&C 132 series. Hurrah!

  11. Given the Church Education System’s history of publishing manuals containing misinformation, homiletic history, and hagiographic biographies, combined with the Church’s past efforts to discourage honest scholarship by those who wished to probe delicate historical and doctrinal questions, we should not be surprised if this announcement is greeted with a measure of guarded optimism. Perhaps genuine change is in the wind. But, for the moment, I will take a wait-and-see approach.

  12. EFF, as one who has probed, as you say, what many have considered controversial topics, researching and publishing, I think your pessimism is unwarranted and generally stereotypical of quarters anachronistically gripping to caricatures instead reality. That said, I do agree that CES and the curricula committees really need some reformation.

  13. For us uninitiated, just what is/are the Council of 50 Minutes?

  14. Sylv, you can see J. Stapley’s write up from about seven years ago for a brief introduction:

    The discussion gives an idea why this is big news to people who care about these sorts of things.

  15. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks for the link, Amy. It is always cringe-inducing to read posts that old. I would certainly do it different today. I’m much less sure about any details now. Still, I think the most exciting thing may be that the whole post could be completely turned upside down. Exciting.

  16. Your style and understanding of the subject and sources have certainly changed, J., but the choice was between that and Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, and the other two sources don’t note why people care about the publication of the minutes.

  17. Wonderful news!

    Let’s hope a few random folks out there don’t try to make this all about them…

  18. J. Stapley, I must respectfully disagree. The efforts of some Church leaders to discourage and suppress inquiry on certain subjects has a long and sustained pedigree. Shuttering the Church archives in the 1970s. Elder McConkie telling Eugene England that he should not teach anything regarding God’s eternal progression that is inconsistent with McConkie’s views. Elder Packer’s repeated efforts to discourage the writing of honest and accurate Church history. Dallin Oaks chiding Linda Newell for having written something other than a “traditional” biography of Emma Smith. The September Six. The errors and misinformation that permeate the materials published by the Church Education System.

    As Terryl Givens and others have acknowledged, the problem isn’t the truth but the sense of betrayal members experience when they learn the truth about our history and the evolution of our doctrines—truths that many within the Church have assiduously sought to conceal. Stereotypes? Anachronisms? I don’t think so. Trust abused in this fashion is not regained with the publication of a few documents; rather, it takes years to repair such damage.

    As I said, I am guardedly optimistic that things are changing—if for no other reason than the Internet has forced the Church to change. But I will not quickly so forget the past, especially when those episodes have adversely affected members of my own family.

  19. I noticed that in November Signature Books will publish “The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History,” by Jedediah S. Rogers. Does anybody know anything about this book? Did the author have access to the minutes of the Council of Fifty in the Church Archives?

  20. Another step in the right direction towards openness. And yet, William Clayton’s Nauvoo diaries (and James Allen’s transcript of them) remain conveniently off limits.

  21. Brian Hauglid says:

    Such good news! It’s exciting to see the continued focus on open access.

  22. HUGE! No gaurded optimism here, just pure excitement!

    The use of the COF minutes in “upcoming volumes” does that include d1?

  23. J. Stapley says:

    EFF, that is precisely what I meant. Your characterization is a generation old. It is and has been for a while, a different world. And R.M. did you notice that the JSPP put scans of some pages of Clayton’s diary up? That is more than Ehat ever saw back in the day. I think we will see more of that.

    I haven’t spoken to Jed about his project, but it is certain that he had no access to the Nauvoo Minutes. From what I understand it is mostly the stuff available from Ehat and Quinn, plus some Utah stuff. But I could be mistaken there.

  24. How could I get to this point in my life and education without ever knowing anything about this? I accept that it shows some shallowness in my study, but it also definitely shows the shallowness of the historical curriculum among the general membership of the church. Thank you for the link to the 2006 post, and the caveats in the comments.

  25. So I was talking to my favorite bookseller yesterday and I asked him what the latest news was . He told me that the release of the Joseph Smith Papers Documents Series Number One had been delayed because the truck carrying the ENTIRE first print run got in a crash and burned up. Has anyone else heard news of this??

  26. andrew h, yes.

  27. Are you serious! Where can i find out more? I’m impatiently waiting. this is like the “dog ate my homework!”

  28. Fanny Alger says:

    How I long for the day when we will all see what a fraud Joseph Smith truly was….

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