We are pleased to have a guest post from Nathan Waite, who is the manager of the Joseph Smith Papers web team
Note: You may be thinking this is nothing more than a shameless promotional post for the Joseph Smith Papers. And you’re partially right. It is unquestionably a plug to visit josephsmithpapers.org, but it’s also a brief look at the history and historiography of the Joseph Smith Translation. And if you make it to the end, I’ve got a question (an actual I-don’t-know-the-answer-and-really-want-to-know question, not a rhetorical one) about the shifting landscape of digital research.
On Monday, the Joseph Smith Papers Project published all the original texts of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. The LDS Church has never published the JST before this—and the JSP is not the same thing as the LDS Church, but we’re part of the Church History Department, which makes this feel like a significant milestone, a first for the church.
Here’s a summary of the five texts we’ve put up:
- Old Testament Revision 1 (OT1; published previous on the JSP website). Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, and Emma Smith worked on this manuscript from June 1830 to about March 1831. It covers Genesis chapters 1–24. The most extensive expansion to the Bible comes right out of the gate with the book of Moses.
- Old Testament Revision 2 (OT2). After JS stopped working on the Old Testament and turned his attention to the New Testament in March 1831 (as instructed by revelation), his trusty scribe John Whitmer made a complete copy of OT1. Then when JS returned to the Old Testament in July 1832, he used OT2 as the working copy. He finished in July 1833. The manuscript covers the entirety of the Old Testament, but many books contain only sparse changes.
- New Testament Revision 1 (NT1). After being instructed by revelation to stop work on the Old Testament and focus instead on the New Testament, JS and Sidney Rigdon spent spring 1831 creating this 65-page text, which covers Matthew chapters 1–26. This manuscript includes the significant revisions to Matthew 24.
- New Testament Revision 2 (NT2). When JS and Sidney Rigdon took a trip to Missouri in June 1831, John Whitmer dutifully copied NT1 up through Matthew 26:1. When the prophet got back, he redid work on Matthew 26 and then resumed revising the rest of the New Testament, finishing in June 1832. Starting with John 6, scribes stopped copying entire chapters and instead noted only edits to be made to specific passages, corresponding with editing marks in JS’s copy of the Bible (see below). They followed this same pattern in OT2.
- Marked up copy of the KJV Bible (see also Kent Jackson’s article). In October 1829, Oliver Cowdery purchased from a new edition of the Bible from E. B. Grandin’s bookshop in Palmyra. Published in 1828 by H. & E. Phinney, the Bible includes the Old and New Testaments as well as the Apocrypha (which JS didn’t touch). Once JS’s scribes started writing down only changes to the KJV, rather than writing out entire chapters and verses, they also made marks in the Bible to correspond. The Bible copy also includes light edits, mostly striking out the italic words and phrases in the KJV.
Though this is a first for the LDS Church, members and scholars of various Latter-day Saint traditions have not ignored the JST for all this time. The original JST manuscripts were kept by Emma Smith after her husband’s death, despite at least one attempt by the church to reclaim them. (Of a visit to Emma on Aug. 19, 1844, Willard Richards wrote, “She said she did not feel disposed to give it up at present.”) Instead, Emma Smith joined what became the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the JST material came into that church’s custody. The first RLDS edition of the JST, titled Holy Scriptures and later known as the Inspired Version, was published in 1867.
The church in Salt Lake City had scant access to the texts, but in the mid-20th century, with RLDS Church historian Richard Howard at the lead, the Reorganized Church opened up its archival holdings and shared microfilms with the LDS Church in Salt Lake. BYU professor Robert J. Matthews spent several decades studying the JST, and his research and publications paved the way for the inclusion of hundreds of JST footnotes and an appendix in the 1979 LDS edition of the Bible. In 2004, Matthews, Kent Jackson, and Scott Faulring published Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Original Manuscripts with the Religious Studies Center. Then in 2011, BYU Studies came out with a little-known electronic edition of the book, including a complete set of images of the manuscripts and the Phinney Bible. It’s a wonderful resource, and you can download it (in all its Windows 95-esque glory) at the above link.
The JSP is standing on the shoulders of giants here. We were given permission to use the transcripts prepared by Faulring, Matthews, and Jackson, and our close collaboration with Community of Christ continues as the church granted us rights to publish beautiful high-res images of the texts. This week’s publication is another step in a long journey to give the JST the scholarly and devotional attention it deserves, but there’s still a boatload of work to do.
While you’re poking around the JSP website, you might notice that we recently made some serious upgrades to the Browse the Papers page and the document viewer. Both are now mobile-friendly, which was desperately needed. The document viewer has several other improvements:
- Ability to view all footnotes at the bottom of the page
- Better print capability
- Ability to view the entire transcript as a single page (this one is my favorite; I’ve been begging for this feature for about five years)
- Resizable image/transcript pane
- Ability to download images
- Automatically generated Chicago-style page citation
So my question relates to this last feature. We get a lot of requests from Mormon libraries and publishers for help citing the JSP. Specifically the print volumes. Now that a web citation is a click away, I’m hoping authors and publishers feel less need to go back to the print volumes. What’s the general thinking these days on print citations vs. online citations? Is there still an aversion to the latter? What’s driving it? Can we get rid of it?
 I’ve used the well-known terms Joseph Smith Translation and JST to describe Joseph Smith’s work on the Bible, though the JSP and other scholarship often refers to it more descriptively as his Bible revision project.