In 1843, a woman named Ann Essam willed the sum of her estate “for and towards the printing and publishing and propagation of the sacred writings of the late Joanna Southcott.” The plebian Southcott claimed to receive revelations and prophecies from God, and heightened the intrigue when an inner voice told her to seal some of the writings until a time of great danger and global distress.
Essam wasn’t the only one to donate funds to cryptic projects. Decades later a Russell Huntley offered a sizeable loan, subsequently accepted, to Joseph Smith III and the RLDS Church to fund the future publication of the Book of Mormon’s sealed portion, which had yet to come forth. “Sealed portions” of scripture have held the promise of hidden knowledge, prophetic authority, a reassurance of God’s continuing revelation, and have motivated obedience for various peoples, including Mormons. The “sealed portion” of the Book of Mormon was described from various accounts as comprising one to two-thirds of the entire plates Joseph Smith unearthed. While Joseph Smith never seems to devoted much attention to it, other than being “very impressively” prohibited by Moroni from tampering with it, the sealed portion came to function as a cultural and doctrinal barometer for the Church. I’ll just focus on one example in this post (but you can read others in the next Dialogue).
Early Mormonism, like other faiths, was entrenched in millennialist expectations. The discourse surrounding consecration, gathering Israel, establishing Zion’s camp, and other themes, all point to a society that was earnestly readying for the second coming of Christ. The sealed portion represented another source of preparation for the Saints. Orson Pratt, for example, was particularly enraptured by the idea, and taught that the sealed portion and lost records would be particularly important to “teach the Latter-day Saints how to organize, how to be prepared” for the “great day that is to come,” namely through the Nephite model of the United Order he believed the portion explained. In another occasion, he spoke of how “the Lord intends, in this dispensation . . . to overwhelm the whole earth with a flood of knowledge in regard to himself . . . [and] in regard to the preparation of the earth for the thousand years of righteousness to come. Hence . . . these great numbers of plates . . . as well as those sealed records of which I have been speaking, will all come to light.”
By the end of the 19th century, however, the sealed portion was going the way of New Jerusalem and Zion’s camp- receding further out of grasp but conceptually maintained to bolster the faithfulness and obedience of the Saints. Increasingly throughout the twentieth century, the absence of the portion shifted from being a source of anticipation, to motivation, to admonishment and rebuke. The pressures of expansion amidst intellectual trends of scientism, higher criticism, and rationalism, were met with Correlation and its emphasis on orthodoxy, and the general disillusionment of post-WWI society resulted in an increasingly pessimistic view of human nature and mankind’s potential. For the Saints, millennial expectations were increasingly muted, and these factors likely exacerbated the abstraction and distancing of the sealed portion.
Millennial ties with the sealed portion were effectively severed by the time Bruce R. McConkie came to the conclusion in the 1980s that the period of great revelatory enlightenment would not occur until Christ returned, and that he was “clear in [his] mind that the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon [would] not come forth until the Millennium.” What had been precursor was now culmination. The expanding physical canon the early Saints envisioned was effectively closed.
I can’t help wondering what will happen to the concept of the sealed portion now. FARMS has been the only arm of the Church to dedicate any time to a literal or serious discussion of the sealed portion in the last decade or two. Where will it go with the new trends of Mormon studies?
 Austin Wakeman Scott, ed. Select cases and other authorities on the law of trusts (Langdell Hall: Cambridge: The Plimpton Press, 1919) 318.
 Frances Brown. Joanna Southcott: The Woman Clothed with the Sun. Leicestershire, England: Lutterworth, 2002. 64.
 Roger D. Launius. “An Ambivalent Rejection: Baptism for the Dead and the Reorganized Church Experience.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Volume 23, no. 2. June 1, 1990. 69.
 David Whitmer said “a large portion” and “about half.” (As cited in “How Witnesses Described the “Gold Plates” by Kirk B. Henrichsen, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Volume – 10, Issue – 1, Pages: 16-21. Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2001. Orson Pratt (not a direct witness) says two-thirds in “The Faith and Visions of the Ancient Saints,” Journal of Discourses, vol. 3. April 13, 1856. 347b. An article in the 1907 Liahona, the Elders’ Journal, says one-third. (Liahona, the Elders’ journal. “Ancient American Prophets.” No. 23. November 23, 1907. 630-632. George Q. Cannon says that only one-third was sealed. (George Q. Cannon, Life of Joseph Smith, new ed., p. 45.) [as cited by Bruce R. McConkie in Mormon Doctrine under “Gold Plates.”) Bruce R. McConkie (“The Bible—A Sealed Book,” Church Education Symposium, BYU, 17 August 1984)and Pres. Hinckley (Truth Restored, pp. 14-15.) cite the two-thirds portion described by Orson Pratt.
 Dan Vogel’s Early Mormon Documents, vol. 5 . Smith gave in an interview with Chicago Times the explanation of this that the angel had told him very impressively that the loose plates alone were to be used, and that the sealed portion was not to be tampered with.” (133, 85,)
 Orson Pratt, “Revelation Gradual, Etc.” Journal of Discourses Volume 19 5/20/1877. 14a.
 Orson Pratt, “King Limhi’s Enquiry.” 217b
 Ibid, 16. See also his discussion on the sealed book in “New Witness for the Articles of Faith,” Deseret Book 1985, and “The Bible—A Sealed Book,” Church Education Symposium, BYU, 17 August 1984, and Millenial Messiah: The Second Coming of Christ,” Deseret News 1982 ( the section “The Dispensation of the Fullness of Times”); and Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary,” Deseret News 1981 (ch. 117, “Expounding the Scripture”).