On Monday, December 1, the Joseph Smith Papers Project released their newest volume: Documents, Volume 3 provides transcriptions of letters, city and temple plans, revelations, reports of discourses, and minutes dating between February 1833 and March 1834, a period that began with glorious hopes of building Zion in Jackson County, Missouri, but descended into crisis on two fronts. In Kirtland, the excommunicated Doctor Philastus Hurlbut began publishing negative accounts of Joseph Smith, and in Jackson County, mob violence led to the expulsion of Mormons from their legally purchased lands.
At the launch of this newest volume, Matthew Grow, head of the Publications Division at the Church History Library, also announced that Joseph Smith Papers Project staff have refreshed the project?s website. To improve the user experience, the team has improved the navigation and readability of the site, added a Table of Contents to the document viewer to enable users to switch pages more easily, and improved the site?s search capabilities.
While Documents, Volume 1 contained a profusion of early revelation documents, Volume 3 has fewer revelations, but a greater variety of documents. Noteworthy documents include: meeting minutes of a collective, shared vision at the School of the Prophets in March 1833; a warrant with a long list of names of prominent Mormons that prevented those named from attaining legal residency and voting rights in Jackson County; annotated drawings of temple and city plans (this is the first volume to reproduce architectural designs and drawings of city plans; it is quite the type-setting feat!); and letters that shed light on the lives of Joseph Smith?s less prominent contemporaries who moved to Jackson County directly in response to his revelations.
These documents are compelling for various reasons. In reference to the March 1833 meeting minutes, Gerrit Dirkmaat, one of the volume editors, observed that most visionary accounts come from Joseph Smith. A handful of visionary accounts come from small groups, such as the ?Testimony of the Three Witnesses? to the Gold Plates. The account recorded by Frederick G. Williams of the collective vision at the March 1833 meeting is unique because a relatively large number of people participated in the event.
Alison Palmer, one of the editors, discussed the process of figuring out how to reproduce the city and temple drawings in a book format in a way that preserved the evolving relationship of the annotations to the designs. The document of the City of Zion Plat, for instance, is 17×22 inches in size. It depicts multiple religious buildings in the central block, and identifies the surrounding blocks as residential spaces. Ultimately, the team divided this document into nine sections and transcribed each.
According the to the volume editors, Joseph Smith?s correspondence reveals his unwavering confidence that Zion would be built. The time delay in communication (it took three weeks for a letter from Jackson County to arrive in Kirtland, for instance) was very interesting to me, especially in light of the need for immediate decisions in response to the increasing mob violence.
The Documents series is one out of six being published by the Joseph Smith Papers Project. The other five series are: Revelations and Translations, Histories, Journals, Legal and Business Records, and Administrative Documents. Photographs, videos, curricula/lesson plans for secular universities, and, of course, images of the documents themselves are all available on the Joseph Smith Papers Project Website.