Joseph Smith Papers Release: Documents Volume 2 (July 1831-January 1833)

By December 11, 2013

Last week, the Joseph Smith Papers Project released their newest volume: Documents Volume 2 (July 1831-January 1833). (You can find a report from the launch party for the first Documents volume here.) There are more than 40(!) copies of revelations included in the new volume, as well as several letters between Joseph and Emma Hale Smith, meeting minutes and licenses for church leaders (more on that later).  The documents in this collection offer special insight to the developing administration of the Church, as well as Joseph Smith coming into his own as a Church administrator. Researchers will find the first written copies of the preface to the Book of Commandments (Doctrine and Covenants 1), the revelation now canonized as (Doctrine and Covenants 76), and the revelations that became the basis for the delineation of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods (Doctrine and Covenants 84).

A few documents mentioned at the launch party:

This volume includes the Bishop’s license given to Edward Partridge in Missouri. The signatures of Sidney Rigdon, W.W. Phelps, Martin Harris, Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, William McClellin and many others signed the document. Because different inks were used, it appears that the license was not signed by each signee on one day. This points to the difficulty of completing seemingly simple tasks because of the distance between the two main bodies of the Church in Ohio and Missouri.

Next, a revelation dated January 5, 1833. The document’s dating took quite a bit of sleuthing to discover the approximate date of publication, as it appears to have been changed by an author well after the revelation was penned; this was discovered through forensic analysis. Forensic analysis highlights the fluid nature of Smith’s revelations, that he edited and refined their content before they were made available to the general Church body.

The documents I am most interested in reading more about are the notes from the 1836 School of the Prophets. These minutes, perhaps, have not been as highly anticipated as the Nauvoo School of the Prophet’s Minutes (Stapley), but the minutes show that women were included in the first day’s meetings. The ordinances of washing and anointing were introduced on the second day of the meeting–this will doubtless be useful to scholars in ritual and liturgical studies in addition to Mormon History.[1]

The thoroughness and meticulousness that has gone into each document is stunning. As with preceding volumes from the Joseph Smith Papers Project, the documentary editing is phenomenal and makes Joseph Smith’s life more accessible and easier to study than ever before. This edition is invaluable to scholars of Mormon theology and history, and could also be useful for devotional classroom purposes.[2]

All in all, the editors of this volume (Matthew C. Godfrey, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, and William G. Hartley), as well as the team working with them, are to be congratulated on producing first rate material like clockwork.  Well done!

Well, what are you waiting for? Purchase a copy (or any other volume, many of which are heavily discounted) for your Mormon History loving friends or family members today!


[1] It was specifically mentioned at the launch party that the documents can be used in either the academy and the chapel.

[2] The documents are available online, but there is something special about holding a tangible copy of the documents, with all the fabulous annotations and comments, in your hands. Long live the hardcopy book!

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