The Sermon Book Approaches

Some of you have followed my odyssey in writing a book on Joseph Smith’s funeral addresses. The project has evolved over time to cover ten sermons, all connected in some sense and speaking for, to, and about, the dead.

Joseph Smith died at the cusp of a revolution in the way Mormons dealt with sermons and there are multiple ways in which this was true. The most obvious one: stenographic recording methods. Six years after his death, relatively robust methods of shorthand were coming into use to report the sermons of Church leaders. But it’s the story of why that happened that is important. It’s a story that engages the culture of Protestantism in America and the Atlantic World and the evolution of Mormon governance. I won’t elaborate here, but trust me, it’s fun.

Joseph Smith’s preaching was set in a changing background of values. Those values spoke to an array of questions regarding permanence, rank, innovation, and more. Ten years after his death, all these combined to set Church historians, leaders, and clerks on a quest to recover his preaching. The result was a collection of texts that fused recollection, witness texts, and current theology in an enterprise that still finds echoes in Church teachings, bubbling up in the Mormon Moment, and showing up under media spotlights that try to sound-bite Mormonism for the masses.

These texts, produced ca. 1855, form the central issue of my book and A Textual Study of the Funeral Sermons of Joseph Smith is the tentative title. Each sermon gets its own chapter, beginning with the Marian Lyon sermon and ending with Joseph’s final Sunday address before his death, what I call the Fifth King Follett Sermon (count ’em, FIVE).

Within each chapter is a general discussion of the sermon outlining manuscript evidence and the efforts of the 1850s, the imprints of the sermon, a timeline, a discussion of content and context. Next comes a genetic study of the 1850s text, then an imprint stemma(s) and a variorum of the 1850s text relative to succeeding imprints. Next I give typographical facsimiles of all the relevant manuscripts, including the working texts of the 1850s if they survive, and finally a new text of the sermon, presented with annotation for alternate readings, etc. Several chapters have appendices discussing various aspects that don’t fit the standard methodology or scope.

Each sermon presents different challenges and requires adaption of the general methodology. But that’s the project in a nutshell. I’m leaving out the best geekery of course.

The book uses color in abundance I’m afraid and the whole project tries to obey the MLA Guidelines on Scholarly Editions as well as the input from other regulating bodies like the Association for Documentary Editing. It’s been a labor of love but a labor of obsession too.

Color is not a friendly word for publishers, for numerous reasons, focusing mostly around cost, price, audience, and recovery of costs. Various publishing houses have considered the project, but the requirements of color and keeping the formatting of certain texts in place were high hurdles. To say nothing of a rather limited readership I suppose (I think everyone should read it, of course). It seemed that the most logical course was to publish electronically. But wait.

Enter Loyd Ericson and Greg Kofford Books. Contracts were signed, samples were built (ok, I’m giving them a look at the most complex chapter, eventually) and lunch discussions ensued, all thanks in large degree to Brad Kramer, a fellow BCC outlander and sympathetic madman.

So there you have it. It’s coming. I don’t know exactly when, but keep your fingers crossed for 2016?

On a side note, Kofford asked me to do a short series on the D&C revelations for their rather impressive Contemporary Studies in Scripture series.[1] First manuscript is near completion. It is also a text study, this one on section 132. It’s bound to be fun. If you liked the series I did on that section at BCC a while back, you’re bound to enjoy the book–yes book.

[1] I make no claim to fit in that group. But I have my pride.


  1. “I won’t elaborate here, but trust me, it’s fun.” #textnerd

  2. What can I say? Land of geek milk and honey.

  3. J. Stapley says:


  4. What you write interests me strangely, WVS. I look forward to 2016.

  5. Great news. Best of luck.

  6. Such great news. Thank goodness for Greg Kofford Books!

  7. I will look forward to that.

  8. Maybe go for a snazzy title and put the tentative title as subtitle. Something like “God in Yonder Heavens”. This looks like great fun. Congratulations.

  9. Like

  10. Really cool! I’m really looking forward to both of them. Kofford is really on a roll!

  11. I like the idea, Sam.

  12. Cool. As for the Section 132 book, I really loved your BCC series and can’t wait for a book length treatment. Good luck!

  13. Wow, this sounds terrific.

  14. Cool stuff, Bill. Back when you were doing the Section 132 series, I couldn’t wait for the next installment to arrive.

  15. Awesome! Thanks for pushing for the book format! Your efforts deserve nothing less. Let the wait begin!!

  16. This will be great. Can’t wait.

  17. Thanks all for the good wishes.

  18. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    Sounds great. You will have to be very, very involved with the publishing as it passes through its various stages to make sure that your appartus remains intact. It will be very easy for things to fall apart and mess up the precision of your work. Best of luck.

  19. Mark, I think we are resorting to pre-type set pages on that sort of thing. So no slack for transmission errors. All the mistakes will be mine alone.

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