Historians have awaited the release of Journals, Volume 3: May 1843-June 1844 (hereafter J3) for many reasons. Joseph Smith’s last months were “turbulent and productive,” mired with controversy, well-known sermons, an expansion of temple liturgy, the beginnings of plural marriage, and Smith’s candidacy for President of the United States. Smith wore many hats in these years, including mayor, judge, and militia leader in addition to his religious roles as president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Despite the proliferation of documents that chronicle this time period, there are still many questions that arise from the study of the lats thirteen months of Joseph Smith’s life that have not been answered (or answered satisfactorily). J3, the final volume of the Journals series, will help historians answer new questions and expand upon older questions in Mormon and American Religious History.
HEIGHTENED ACCURACY IN TRANSCRIPTION
The editors mentioned the ways that the documents in J3 functioned as both a personal journal for Joseph Smith as well as the institutional history of Mormonism from May 1843-June 1844. These notes were later expanded into the Manuscript History, often from scant detail and weather notations. There are few entries on emotions or Smith’s intellectual, liturgical, and theological genesis. Despite the lack of detail about what is going on in Smith’s head, researchers will better understand the last thirteen months of Smith’s life through his leadership in civic and ecclesiological roles. This volume uses notes from the Council of Fifty Records (due out in September 2016) not previously available to researchers.
J3 also deals heavily with the long road to Joseph Smith’s murder, including disaffected followers leaving Mormonism, and escalating tensions that led directly to Carthage Jail. This book is a much-have for those who are interested in Smith’s death and the events that preceded it.
This volume includes more than sixty sermons, many of which benefit from the Joseph Smith Papers Team’s rigorous transcription verification. Dean Jessee’s work in previous decades, as well as Scott Faulring’s work and the research of other scholars, directly led to this volume. But J3 is a significant improvement and expansion on their efforts. Through the background work used to produce this volume, historians now have a much better idea of what Joseph Smith preached in his sermons. This includes Smith’s teachings on baptism for the dead, priesthood ordinance, a multi-tiered vision of the afterlife, and humanity’s potential to become like God. The advancement of earlier publications that at times mis-transcribed or misinterpreted Willard Richards’ atrocious handwriting. Alex Smith, one of the volume’s editors, informed those that attended the release event that the accuracy of transcription is one of the most significant aspects of J3.
FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN TEMPLE LITURGY
There are a few references to temple liturgy in the volume, as well as annotations for further context. Those who have waited for sources authored or approved by Joseph Smith to cite in their work now have the opportunity to do so (although references to the temple liturgy and ritual, the Anointed Quorum, and plural marriage are relatively few). Those with ears to hear will notice details like prayer meetings and other events that will help flesh out previous histories of Smith’s life and thought.
FOR HISTORIANS OF RACE
J3 has many new documents about Joseph Smith’s relationship and interaction with indigenous peoples (including their role in Mormons exploring Texas as a potential settling place). I believe this book will further conversations about Joseph Smith, race, and politics.
J3 has a 117 page index that spans J1-J3. Bibliophiles rejoice!
Matt Grow said that the publication of J3, along with the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon, a forthcoming release of a book on the first fifty years of the Relief Society (March 2016), Documents 4 (Zion’s Camp), and the Council of Fifty Minutes (September 2016), signals a watershed moment for the study of Mormonism. I can’t help but agree. Those who study Mormonism in any regard will have more sources than any generation of scholars before them.
So what are you waiting for? Get your copy and start writing your next article/book/blog post!