Nineteenth-Century Mormon Materialism and the Cold Bloodedness of Science

Matthew Taylor (“Ghost-Humanism,” J19 1, no.2 (2013): 416ff) begins his interesting take on ghosts and nineteenth-century science with this quote from William Gilmore Simms: “we can no longer get a ghost story” because “the materialists” have made “the world . . . monstrous matter-of-fact in latter days.” Taylor writes that Simms’s corollary that the “cold-blooded demon called Science has taken the place of all the other demons” is telling in this regard, but more indicative is the era’s endless fascination with ghostology, or the attempt to identify “a scientific theory . . . reconciling ghosts and natural phenomena.”
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How We See the Preaching of Past Eras – Joseph Smith’s Sermons. A Thought.

I gave fair warning that I would dump semi-discarded bits from my attempts to write an introduction to the Sermon Book. Since we’ve just been through a lot of preaching over the past weekend, now seems a good time to continue the torture. I think this may be applicable to the individual sermons we heard over the weekend in several senses. You may judge.

The cultural gulf that separates current Mormonism from an understanding and appreciation of its past is deep, and just as in any faith tradition, fully bridging that chasm is impossible. In the end, we can only see the past through the lens of the present. However, this does not require us to be satisfied with unexamined expression, terminology and epistemology. To understand early Mormonism is a much wider problem than understanding Joseph Smith or his momentary expressions on a Sunday morning. It is to understand the larger picture of idea, reason, belief, and the cloud of concerns that attended a life nearly two centuries ago in America. On the other hand, few people understand themselves in such broad terms even at their most introspective (something that usually means dwelling on regrets, incomplete tasks, missed opportunities or other “what ifs”). The events and perceptions of a life are packed with the immediate pressures of the day and the intrusion of memories triggered by those events.
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Wave Operators. Omniscience. God. Heaven. Charity. Atonement. Reconciliation. Love. Infinity. Part I.

“Maybe we’ve spent too long trying to figure this all out with theory. . . love isn’t something we invented. It’s observable, powerful. It has to mean something.”
“Love has meaning, yes. Social utility, social bonding, child rearing.”
“We love people who have died. Where is the social utility in that?”
“Maybe it means something more, something we can’t–yet–understand. Maybe it’s some evidence, some artifact of a higher dimension that we can’t consciously perceive. I’m drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen in a decade, who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it . . .”

“I saw . . . my brother Alvin, that has long since slept; and marveled how it was that he had obtained an inheritance in that [Celestial] kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins. Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom; for I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works,[and] according to the desire of their hearts.”

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Print Culture and Orality in Early Mormonism

Working through the Funeral Sermon book, trying to put together a real draft, I’m attempting once again to write an introduction (presently designated as Preface). I’ve written large chunks that have been (and no doubt others that will eventually be) discarded. This post is stuff on the chopping block, but it has some important features that deserve some discussion I think. So I am dumping it on you all. No doubt it is terribly boring stuff, but that’s the nature of the beast. What follows was just an initial draft, so I don’t claim a serious stake in it. I put the pictures in to entertain Steve Evans.

[Cross posted at’s blog.]
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Your Sunday Brunch Special: A Christmas for Geeks. The James Adams Sermon.

Way back in the day, in blog time, I wrote about James Adams, and Joseph Smith’s funeral sermon on his behalf. James Adams was a father figure to Joseph Smith, important to him especially with the death of Joseph Smith Sr in 1840. Adams befriended Joseph Jr in 1839 when the latter set out for Washington to plead the case of Latter-day Saint claims for redress of damages in Missouri. Adams rapidly became privy to the deep secrets of Nauvoo: polygamy/sealings, endowments, and politics. Joseph’s innermost spiritual and confidential circle did not necessarily coincide with church leadership. When Adams died, it was a blow to Joseph. Since I previewed the Funeral Sermon book a bit a few weeks ago, I thought some of you may be interested in specifics. I mentioned that each chapter centers around a particular sermon, studied in different ways, but each methodology orbiting around a particular text (pivot text), one derived ca. 1855 (well after Joseph Smith’s death) by the church’s history clerks. Below there are some pages from a draft of chapter 5, the chapter that studies Adams’s sermon. The pages come from section 3 of that chapter. This section shows how the various editions of the sermon compare with the pivotal manuscript. [Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special: A Ghost Story

Early America was replete with ghost stories, hauntings, and the like. While transcribing a diary/autobiography I came across this one, which I share for your enjoyment.

This story is set in a large farmhouse near Paris, New York, ca. 1810. The narrator recalls his childhood, one that was relatively carefree, though not unacquainted with death. At the time of the experience, a younger brother was quite ill, and the narrator had just suffered a severe case of complicated measles. The family were attentive Presbyterians, and apparently a little hell-fire was preached in their local congregation.
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Joseph Smith Papers Documents Volume 3 Release Presentation

Ok, here I am on the fourth floor of the Church History Library. The official release date for Docs vol. 3 is today, but books arrived a week early, so you may have already purchased a copy. Waiting for the group to begin. The volume editors are here along with some media outlets and bloggers.

Matt Grow, Gerrit Dirkmaat

Gerrit Dirkmaat (left), Matt Grow (right)

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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.
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Your Sunday Brunch Special: Temple Dedication

I served a mission during the Vietnam War. This was a problematic thing on several levels. For one, the Church had wrangled selective service deferments and parsed them out to wards so that two ward members could be in the mission field at any one time, more or less. Our ward’s quota was in play, so that when I decided I wanted to try mission before war, there wasn’t much chance of doing so. After high school, I became a ski bum for a year, working in a ski shop, installing bindings, making adjustments, fixing skis, etc. As my 19th birthday approached, the bishop informed me that another ward had a free slot, and it was mine if I wanted it. I said yes.
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General Conference in (My) Perspective

General Conference has its own culture but the present version of that culture is rather modern. It has been used as a medium to announce policy changes or revelations, for a long time, certainly. But addresses at conference were not particularly regarded as “revelation” in any formal sense in say, the nineteenth century. The April-October cycle seemed firmly in place for headquarters meetings by Nauvoo, but certainly June was almost as important historically prior to that. What is the most important conference ever? I think one could argue that June 1831 was important, and November 1831 too. October 1830 is up there. But of course these were tiny gatherings compared to today’s giant (media) audiences. April 1844 was certainly influential (though it was not a general conference for technical reasons). August 1844 was mightily important, and August 1852 ranks up there. And what about October 1978?
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Sacrifice Brings Forth The Blessings . . .

Walking around the campus of the Church’s flagship university today, I noted various states of clothing. No, this is not about skirt length (or pants now, apparently). I just noticed some shoes were *very* used, some other articles of clothing were clearly from a past age. Not a lot, but some. This got me to thinking about my own university experience. In grad school, I rarely had lunch because we could not afford it. And I frequently stayed at the campus until late in the evening studying (3am was not unusual). So I ended up with a piece of toast in the morning and some casserole in the late evening and sometimes if I was lucky enough to get a quarter or two, some sort of junk food from a vending machine during the day. Those Hostess Apple Pies were mighty good.
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The Science of Reminiscence: Joseph Smith Vignettes. III

This is the third in a series of posts on memories about Joseph Smith. The same cautions apply as noted in part 1.

Bro. Gates said. One day while at Far West. Br. Joseph was talking to Bishop Partridge concerning the lost tribes. Joseph remarked that they are hid from us. “Yes” said Br. Partridge in a rather unbelieving tone. I guess they are by land and water. “No” said Joseph, “by land and air.” Br. P smiled as if he thought Joseph did not know what he was talking about. Joseph continued, “Yes, they are hid by land and air in such a manner that the Astronomers cannot get their telescopes to bear on them because they are at an angle that they can’t be seen from the earth.[1]
I heard J. Gates relate this little incident in the St. Geo Temple. June 1880.[2]
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LDS Dating Culture

Ever since various general authorities started drawing attention to the dating scene among Young Adults, I’ve taken an interest in the current status of dating, especially among LDS people, but also in general. I’ve polled my students about it occasionally and also my friends, single and not. As a borderline narcissistic introvert, you might be surprised to learn that I have friends, even friends from many different lands (states) and persuasions. But it’s true. Of course the rest of you won’t be surprised at all.

But to the point. Here, in no particular sequence of topics, are some observations from students, friends, and neighbors on dating culture among Mormons, and sometimes, others.
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The Science of Reminiscence: Joseph Smith Vignettes. II

This is the second in a series of posts on memories about Joseph Smith. The same cautions apply as noted in post 1.

Easton Kelsey heard him [Joseph Smith] say that he (Joseph) had been with John, the Beloved Apostle of Jesus who told him that he was busy among the ten tribes organizing and preparing them to return.[1]

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The Science of Reminiscence: Joseph Smith Vignettes. I (It’s Conference Time!)

This is the first in a series of posts on memories of Joseph Smith. One should always be cautious with memories, even for immediate events. So much of what we remember is colored by the bio-“technology” of perception and the ability of our brains to fill in the gaps of the past, while simultaneously supplying interpretive links to present worldview and belief.[1] Studies of memory, especially distant memories, suggest that those recollections rarely represent accurate reproductions of past events. Moreover, people who recalled Joseph Smith’s sayings or acts were rarely disinterested bystanders. That said, these memories are interesting for what they may tell us of Joseph but perhaps more about those who remembered him.

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“Wrestling the Angel.” Terryl Givens’ Illuminated Tour of Mormon Thought

Terryl L. Givens
Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity
Hardcover: i-xiii, 390 pages.
Publisher: Oxford University Press, forthcoming (2014).
Pre-order Amazon price in the US: $27.96.

When I heard that Professor Givens had embarked on a work of “Mormon Theology” I was more than a little skeptical. Not that it hasn’t been done before. That isn’t the problem. It’s just that theology, as James Faulconer has written, is something that just doesn’t seem to fit Mormonism. However, when I got my greedy little hands on Givens’ book, I was pleased to see that it is a work of theological heritage. In Givens’ words: “I am here tracing what I regard as the essential contours of Mormon thought as it developed from Joseph Smith to the present, not pretending to address the many tributaries in and out of Mormonism’s main currents.”(x)
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Last Minute Reminder: Mormon Women’s History Initiative Conference Saturday August 9, 2014

In case you were planning on going but saw registration was closed, it is now open.

Origins and Destinations: Forty Years of Mormon Women’s Histor(ies).

Utah Valley University
Science Building Auditorium
SB 134
9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Honoring the Life and Work of Claudia L. Bushman
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Your Sunday Brunch Special: The Dark.

As a seven year old, I had a fascination with monster/horror/space films. When my parents weren’t looking, I would leaf through the newspaper to find the page where the theaters advertised their current wares. Inevitably, there were some wonderfully creepy black and white ads leaking out of the bottom of the page: “Blood Monster from Hell” or “The Blob,” or some such. Stuff they never discussed in Primary. When my mother was out of earshot, I’d mention these to my dad, who, knowing better, shared a bit of this interest, or at least he pretended to share it. My mother was one of those practical people who never opened the door to the night.
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Protology, Eschatology, and High School

So, Joseph Smith waxed eloquent on the social aspects of the before life, and the afterlife. We get a pithy summary courtesy of Orson Pratt and William Clayton:

“that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there”

And this makes me shiver a bit. Niles Crane, fictive Seattle psychiatrist expresses my thought best:

I’ve always liked the notion [after I die] of meeting the great figures of history. But then I think, what if it’s like high school, and all the really cool dead people don’t want to hang out with me?*

*On the wall in the St. George temple is a painting. All those cool dead people? They’re hanging out with Wilford Woodruff.

Your Sunday Brunch Special: Poetry, Prose, Class, and Joseph Smith

Musings on a Sunday morning, nothing much important, but I inflict it on you anyway. You’ll forgive me for the strange usage.

Mormonism: outsiders, if they observe carefully, see two interwoven sides to the Joseph Smith narrative. There is poetry. His production of the Book of Mormon, for instance. The work itself is one of poetic-mythic dimensions, and its interpretations are part and parcel of the poetry that is early Mormonism. The Book of Mormon was originally seen as a universal American tale, offering predictions about the fate of the United States and the origins of its primitive inhabitants, the evils of Catholicism and the virtues of gentile Protestants who had somehow labored under oppressions of popery, even before a reformation. Joseph himself is poetic in our unhindered vision of him. His own hand reeks of biblical verse, prayers to heaven, pleas and gratitude for divine help. But, mid-career, Joseph seems to step behind a curtain, and becomes the object of narrative, rather than its producer. His journals are no longer dictated, they are mostly observed. We hear his voice as less personal, more formal, prosaic, if you will, as his revelations become hidden by secret orders, sermons couched in double meaning, and ghostwritten works.
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Sherlock Holmes in Utah

We seem to be in the midst of a Sherlock Holmes revival, what with the BBC’s Sherlock series, CBS’s Elementary (both are set in the present) and the Warner Brothers movies staring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. This little side-light on good old Holmes has a Mormon connection.

In 1923, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, British author and advocate for the Spiritualism movement, visited Salt Lake City, Utah and delivered a lecture in the Mormon Tabernacle.[1] Doyle was and is most famous for his fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Doyle in his mature years.

Doyle in his mature years.

Holmes’s first adventure involved a crime that was linked to the Mormons of Utah, specifically, the Danite Vigilante Corps so popular in the nineteenth-century press. A Study in Scarlet was sold for 25 pounds sterling and appeared in December 1886.
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Lava Bombs and Malls

Last night I had a series of terrible dreams. One involved lava bombs. The neighbor’s home (who happens to be my bishop) was blasted to smoldering flames, my old pickup caught one squarely in its rusted bed, then my house was battered, dead center in the master bedroom. Naturally, I was standing in the driveway, barefoot, crouching down as hell rained upon the neighborhood. I ran into the house to get my wife, but suddenly realized she was still in bed (it must have been early). Crying, I tried to get up the stairs but lava was splashed about, seriously impeding my progress and then barring my way finally. Knowing her fate, as dreams are often omniscient, I went to the little cabinet where somehow there were spare car keys, grabbed one for the new car and rushed outside, hoping to get up north to check on . . . I don’t know what. The dream went on, predictably getting worse until I woke.
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Sunday Evenings with the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 132. Part 14. Polygamy: Epilogue–Polygamy Today

This is the final post in the series on Doctrine and Covenants section 132. NB. Robert J. Woodford’s 1974 Ph.D. dissertation, “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants” has been very helpful in several aspects of this series, especially in confirming my readings of earlier editions. For earlier installments in this series, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12,, and Part 13. For a trivial index with links see the end of this post.

The July 12 revelation is not often referenced today. Public quotation of the revelation in general church settings came largely in the nineteenth century (despite the fact that the July 12 revelation is an underlayment for many modern Mormon values). The verses most often quoted or mentioned in general level meetings appear to be 7, 8, 19, 22 and 48. Given that, one might suppose that while sealing is alive and well, it’s twin, polygamy, given the current reference to Official Declaration 1 in the heading to the 2013 edition of Doctrine and Covenants section 132 (see part 3), is dead.

But not so.
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Sunday Evenings with the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 132. Part 13: Speculative Revelation.

This is the penultimate post in a series on Doctrine and Covenants section 132. NB. Robert J. Woodford’s 1974 Ph.D. dissertation, “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants” has been very helpful in several aspects of this series, especially in confirming my readings of earlier editions. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11. and Part 12. The follow-on and final post in the series is here.

Warning: if your sense of humor does not extend to communing with the dead, or rewriting Holy Writ, leave off reading now.

I’ve mentioned several times before that I think section 132 was never meant for public consumption. It is, depending on one’s perspective, embarrassing for Joseph Smith, for Emma Smith and perhaps for both. It deploys language that in appropriating an Old Testament voice and figures, applies a moral authority where it may not belong, in general. I doubt Joseph ever wanted to invite the public to critique Emma’s behavior over these intimate matters, or for that matter, his own. For example, the talk of “ten virgins,” an obvious echo if not allusion to Matthew 25, a chapter Joseph had already used in the service of polygamy at least once (see part 9), may carry a kind of ugliness for the modern audience. This raises the question of what such a revelation might have looked like if it were meant from the beginning as public, out-in-the-open, Divine Counsel.
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Sunday Evenings with the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 132. Part 12: Canon.

This is part 12 of a series of posts on Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, Joseph Smith’s July 12, 1843 revelation on marriage. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, the follow-on post, part 13, is here.


Historically, Protestants struggled with language that styled ministers as “prophets” or that preaching was “the word of God” in some sense, instead segueing to phrases like “nearly prophetic” or “approaching the heavenly word itself,” etc.[1] Biblical text, often described as inerrant, a kind of guarantee against God’s Providence, had a certain purity attached to it. This purity made its trustworthiness durable. For all this to work, the Bible must not be susceptible to interpretation—or for many, even historicization—it must be possible to “read” the Bible in a kind of “obvious to all of good will” way, and see its shining truths, beyond dispute. And as a result, commentary on Scripture, preaching from Scripture, and so on, walked the boundary of that awful gulf between the Word of God and His Inscrutable Will.
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Sunday Evenings with the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 132. Part 11: Escape Clause.

This is part 11 of a series of posts on Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, Joseph Smith’s July 12, 1843 revelation on marriage. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10. The followup post is here.

Verse 64 below again speaks to the dynamic between Joseph and Emma. The “destroyed” meme recurs. That Joseph is the male object here is clear, since he “holds the keys of this power” and only one at a time exists according to previous text in the revelation. Get on board Emma. That’s the major message.
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Sunday Evenings with the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 132. Part 10: Ten Virgins. The Mechanics of Plurality (and Sex on Earth, and in Heaven). And Another Addendum: Excommunication.

This is part 10 of a series of posts on Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, Joseph Smith’s July 12, 1843 revelation on marriage. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9. The part following this entry is here.

Much of the July 12 revelation is simplistically divisible into two kinds of speech: 1) Joseph is in the right. 2) Emma is in the wrong. The last section of the revelation falls into both categories. Along with this, we also get some talk of “virgins.” Earlier text in the revelation treats issues of sexual transgression (see part 8 for example).
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Sunday Evenings with the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 132. Part 9: Emma’s Dilemma.

This is part 9 of a series of posts on Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, Joseph Smith’s July 12, 1843 revelation on marriage. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8. The next part in the series is here (part 10).

The next portion of the revelation is explicitly directed to Emma Smith. It commands Emma to join in and receive the doctrine of polygamy, a terrible test for her. Verse 51 has been a puzzling statement since 1843 and there is no definitive information about its meaning.
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Sunday Evenings with the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 132. Part 8: The Origin and Power of Polygamy. With an Adulterous Addendum!

This is part 8 of a series of posts on Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, Joseph Smith’s July 12, 1843 revelation on marriage. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7. For the follow on post, part 9, go here.

In Nauvoo, two notions of “kingdom expansion” in the hereafter developed in logical tension. They had textual roots from the New York and Kirtland periods.

(1) Kingdom expansion for a person in the hereafter was based on having many earthly progeny. In this way, after death and the exaltation of those children, their own godlike activities of world peopling and priesthood connection made one a greater “king and priest.”

Orson, you're always a good foil.  I appreciated it. That chair pose is not the most flattering thing you've done, though.

The spirit of man is uncreate.

(2) More wives in mortality meant faster growth of progeny in the hereafter somehow, though precisely how or what that meant was not really fleshed out until after Joseph’s death (by Orson Pratt, W. W. Phelps, Eliza R. Snow, Brigham Young and others)—in short, it entailed pregnancy and birth of, not physical bodies, but “spirit” bodies—Pratt saw heavenly gestation as comparable to mortal, hence the advantage of multiple wives.[1]
Well, Go to Hell, Orson.  You'll never be an Adam. And by the way, no on your good but inflammatory idea. /raspberry/

Spirits are always being sired in the eternal world by heavenly couples.

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Preaching, Tradition, History

General Conference season is behind us once again. Preaching is one of the main features of conference and there is a wide variety of it there. I’ve mostly been interested in antebellum sermons, partly because of their richness in terms of redaction criticism, a characteristic shared by ancient documents. Historically, scripture became scripture by repetition. People repeating what they heard, adding explanation, interleaving bits, expansion, contraction, often assigning sources as seemed appropriate. Below is a very short example from a sermon report (a Joseph Smith sermon delivered in June, 1844 less than two weeks prior to his death) that displays some of this process. Keep in mind, redactors often have a point to make.
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