Two General Authorities on Sept. 22 officially signaled the publication of the second and latest volume in the Joseph Smith Papers Project when Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, Church Historian and Recorder, formally presented a copy to Elder Russel M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve.
In front of several print and broadcast journalists gathered in the new Church History Library in downtown Salt Lake City, Elder Nelson received on behalf of the First Presidency the copy of Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations: Manuscript Revelation Books.
In handing the 8-pound, large-format, 752-page tome to Elder Nelson, Elder Jensen quipped, “This maybe gives new meaning to the term heavy reading.”
Prior to the presentation, Assistant Church Historian Richard E. Turley Jr. introduced the book, the first of four planned volumes in the Revelations and Translations series, which is one of six series in the project. Eventually, the project will comprise 30 volumes, the rest to be published over the next several years. The first book, volume 1 of the Journals series, was released last December.
“We’re pleased to present in the pages of this new volume the two earliest manuscript revelations that were kept by the early Church,” Brother Turley said. “When Joseph Smith received revelations, he had them transcribed by scribes onto loose sheets of paper. Those sheets were then copied into a manuscript volume.”
One of the manuscripts in the new book, the Book of Commandments and Revelations, was used as the printer’s manuscript for the Book of Commandments, the printing of which was disrupted by a mob in Independence, Mo., on July 20, 1833.
It was then taken to Ohio, and, together with the second manuscript, the Kirtland Revelation Book, was used in printing the first edition of the next volume of Joseph Smith’s revelations, the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, Brother Turley explained.
He said the newly published work allows readers to see on each left-hand page “a color image of the revelation manuscripts, every page of them. On the right-hand side we have a meticulous transcription made by excellent scholars. And the changes that are made by the editors [Joseph Smith’s scribes], are reflected in color coding for each scribe. So it’s a wonderful vehicle for studying the history of the early Church.”
In remarks after receiving the new volume, Elder Nelson said, “It was the Lord who issued the charge to the early pioneers to keep a record of the history of the Church. Joseph Smith hearkened and responded to that instruction. Undergirding Church history were revelations received and recorded by Joseph Smith.
“He protected and preserved them. Explicitly, he followed instructions received in them.”
The revelations are of eternal significance to God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, who had waited many centuries before they inaugurated the latter-day dispensation, Elder Nelson said.
“Though Joseph was young and inexperienced, he had been foreordained from before the foundation of the world to be God’s prophet at this particular time,” he said. “He was to be tutored, trained and prepared by heavenly beings.”
The Joseph Smith Papers Project is a tribute to the Prophet, but it is also a tribute to the principle of revelation from God, Elder Nelson remarked. “It is His deep desire to bless all of His children. The importance and relevance of these revelations lies in the fact that the heavens are open. It is in the fact that God lives, that his Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, is the Living Christ, and that they direct the affairs of His Church by revelation to living prophets.”
Access to revelation is not limited to apostles and prophets; rather all of God’s children are invited to receive personal revelation, the apostle declared.
He said Joseph Smith became great because of revelation. “Gratefully, we too can become greater than we otherwise would be by receiving and responding to personal revelation.”
The new book is supplemental to the personal progress of members of the Church, he said. “Just as information about the Dead Sea Scrolls is not critical to our love of the Bible, so a study of this new publication is not critical to our love of the marvelous scriptures of the Restoration.”
Posing the question of whether the new book, priced at $100 a copy, is “required reading” for members, he said, “We would not ask any of them to make a sacrifice they could not afford. After all, everything they really need for salvation and exaltation is already available to them.”
Some individuals have indicated they will purchase the new book regardless, he said. “Why? Because it would draw them closer to the Lord, His prophet and the process of revelation. I too believe that these blessings will come to all who study its pages. Serious students will appreciate the magnificence and value of this great book.”
Elder Jensen spoke of the connection that early members of the Church felt with the Prophet Joseph Smith “and the tremendous excitement for the idea that he was in touch with God and was receiving revelations.”
He said he has learned that in the early days of the Church, a communication from God to a specific individual was often called a commandment, while one with a more general application was called a revelation. “Hence, the first book of revelations that was published was known as the Book of Commandments,” he said. “They were individual communications to members who were very pleased and honored to be able to go to a living prophet and have him speak to them on behalf of God. “This publication, then, in our day evidences, I think, the great importance that the early saints placed on God’s communications with man through a prophet,” he said. “It’s wonderful, in the midst of all that went on, the Lord made provision through Joseph Smith to have them collected in a very orderly way. And it’s even more miraculous, I think, that they’ve been preserved and remain in the possession of the Church today.”
Elder Jensen invited news reporters to view the original copies, displayed in a glass case, of both of the revelation manuscripts published in the new volume.
Explaining the significance of the newly published volume, Brother Turley said, “We have people come to the Church History Library to see many of the original documents of the Church, because there seems to be a sense that you get when viewing original documents that you don’t get when you view poor copies.”
He drew an analogy, noting that many high schools and other civic buildings display copies of the early documents of the founding of the United States. “Rarely do people ever stop and look at them. And yet if you go to Washington D.C., to the National Archives on Pennsylvania Avenue, you will see people line up so that they can see the originals, and they will stay there for a long time, and they will weep, because there is an inherent distinction between poor copies and the original.”
Scholars in the past have tended to ignore the writings of Joseph Smith “more than we think should be done for responsible scholarship,” largely because they could not afford to come to Salt Lake to City to view original manuscripts, Brother Turley said. Publication of the new volume will allow them to view the two revelation manuscripts in high-quality photo images in the comfort of their own offices, he said.
The new volume is also significant because it helps to resolve questions that have arisen, Brother Turley said.
As an example, he noted that there has been somewhat of a controversy about the location of the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830. Joseph Smith in his history, begun in 1838, gave the location as the Peter Whitmer home in Fayette, N.Y. Yet the Book of Commandments, prepared by Church printer William W. Phelps, gave the location as Manchester, N.Y., in the headnote of what is now Doctrine and Covenants 21.
That has caused endless confusion, Brother Turley said. Generally, one might believe the first-hand witness, in this case, Joseph Smith. But what heretofore has been the earliest printed record, the Book of Commandments, has conflicted with the Prophet’s account with respect to the location of the Church organization.
“So there has been this tension,” Brother Turley said. “Well, with the publication today of this set of manuscript revelation books, we can make available to the public the earliest copy of that revelation in the Book of Commandments and Revelations.” He added, “So now we have a source that predates the Book of Commandments and was in fact the printer’s manuscript for the Book of Commandments, that we can add to Joseph Smith’s first-hand testimony, essentially resolving that issue. As my colleague, Elder Jensen, said to me on one occasion, ‘I kind of suspected Joseph might have been right.'”
Published by the Church Historian’s Press, an imprint of the Church History Department, the new book is available through the official distributor, Deseret Book Co., with a suggested retail price of $99.95. Printed on custom-milled, acid-free archival quality paper, it is 9 by 12 inches in size. Books published today are customarily 6 by 9 inches.