REVIEW: Joseph Smith Papers–Revelations & Translations, Volume 2: Published Revelations

REVIEW: Joseph Smith Papers–Revelations & Translations, Volume 2: Published Revelations

At last, all of the major editions of Joseph Smith’s revelations published – or in production – during his lifetime are now available in one beautiful book, the latest in the Joseph Smith Papers Project (JSPP) published by the Church Historian’s Press, Revelations and Translations, Volume 2: Published Revelations.

A major question I knew that was on my mind with the publication of this edition was, “Well, what’s new?”

It’s a valid question, as reprints of the 1833 Book of Commandments, 1835 Doctrine & Covenants, and The Evening and the Morning Star are, and have been available for years for those who want them.

Apart from the convenience and beauty of binding them all together in one undeniably gorgeous book, there is indeed added value material which is new, and fantastic

It is important to note that this is a textual study, and not a commentary where the wording, phrasing, context, and meaning of the revelations are examined in detail. This is a promised feature for the appearance of the revelations in the comprehensive Documents series of the JSPP, but is not to be found here.

What is found here, however, is a guide to the manuscript sources of the text of each published revelation. As such, it serves as a fantastic companion to the Manuscript Revelation Books volume (which is also now available in a standard size, non-facsimile edition).

Following are some of the features I found of particular interest:

Introductions

The historical overviews and introductions give great detailed insight on the context and process of bringing together these revelations for publication, and into the hands of the early Latter-day Saints.

As a point of particular interest, the JSPP introduction to the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants is the first Church Published acknowledgement (of which I am aware) that the Lectures on Faith (the ‘Doctrine’ portion of the original Doctrine and Covenants) were most likely written by Sidney Rigdon, and not Joseph Smith himself – as they are usually traditionally attributed (see p.304).

Parallel The Evening and The Morning Star & Evening and Morning Star

While beautiful duotone photographs are used to reproduce the Book of Commandments and Doctrine and Covenants (1835 and  the additional JS-era1844 D&C texts, which excludes the John Taylor martyrdom tribute), the presentation of the material published in the first Church periodical and its reprint is presented as a transcription.

The Evening and the Morning Star was the first public presentation of many of the earliest revelations during 1832-1833, and in time was reprinted with the shortened title Evening and Morning Star. When it was reprinted, while the vast majority of content remained exactly the same, the revelations themselves were presented in a significantly revised and updated form.

The two-column parallel transcription provided in the JSPP is designed to maximize the ability to spot contrasts between the two editions. The two are lined up, and where words are missing in one version, a gap is left in the parallel side. This makes a wonderful quick-reference to spot places where text was either removed, or added in the later edition. It’s a  brilliant, yet simple, and highly convenient way to present the information. In fact, I would have loved to have a similar reference for the difference in the 1833 Book of Commandments text, and the text as presented in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.

One open question I have concerning this section is why the Revelation to Moses (Moses 1) and other material that was part of the Joseph Smith’s Bible Revision (or JST) that were printed in the EMS were not included in this volume. It hasn’t been made clear in what form the JST will be presented in the context of the JSPP. Especially since no editions of the JST were published in Joseph’s lifetime, it seems this would be an ideal place to present the few published excerpts that were presented along side the revelations presented here. I’d be interested in hearing some clarification from the JSPP editors on this topic.

Conjectural ‘Missing Portion’ of the Book of Commandments

Based mainly on the recently discovered Revelation Book 1, and the editing marks presented therein, and also taking into consideration other contextual material, the editors present here for the first time a transcription of what would most likely have been the planned yet unprinted portion of the 1833 Book of Commandments that was halted by the destruction its printing press. This is really cool.

Guide to the Substitute Code-Words in the 1835 and 1844 Doctrine & Covenants

There’s a brief section in the back-matter that gives a chart of the Enochic Code Names used in a few of the published revelations, including their antecedent (IE, who or what the code word represents as originally found in the earliest manuscripts), and in which revelations they are mentioned – including the Manuscripts found in JSP:RT1.

While current editions of the Doctrine and Covenants note that in a few cases, names were used to hide the identity of individuals, what is not usually known is that code words were also used for locations (Kirtland), scriptural events (the Second Coming) , biblical characters (Joseph of Egypt), societies (The United Firm), and even Jesus Christ. While the names of modern individuals and some locations have been changed back to their antecedents in current editions, many of the code words still remain in the text, creating a bit of a confused context. It will be interesting to see if later editions continue to return to complete use of the antecedents. I would love to see an edition printed with purely the antecedents in the main body text, but with all former Code Words acknowledged in the footnotes. The re-contextualization of the revelations as Enochic Revelations are, in my opinion, fascinating studies, and useful for understanding – and introducing to Latter-day Saints – the nature and legitimacy of Pseudepigraphic writing in the prophetic tradition.

Oliver Cowdery’s Book of Commandments

Also included are several photos of Oliver Cowdery’s personal copy of the Book of Commandments, which contained many editing marks used in the preparation for the setting of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. In connection with the Manuscript Revelation Books, these images add an important puzzle pieces to help complete the picture of transitioning from the Manuscripts, to the printed edition, to its presentation in the 1835 collection. Very cool stuff.

Parting Thoughts

There’s so much more that could be said about this edition. I’m sure there are many other fascinating nuances and notes of significance I haven’t discovered yet. I’m incredibly happy to have this in my collection, and very much look forward to diving even more in depth to study its contents.

The Joseph Smith Papers Project continues to exceed expectations in every way in the presentation, and content, of every single volume so far released.

Here’s a listing of the complete contents:

Contents
Detailed Contents
Timeline of Joseph Smith’s Life
Map: Joseph Smith’s Residences
Volume 2 Introduction: Joseph Smith – Era Publications of Revelations
Editorial Method

Published Revelations
Book of Commandments
Appendix 1: Proposed Sixth Gathering of the Book of Commandments
Revelations Printed in The Evening and the Morning Star
Doctrine and Covenants, 1835
Appendix 2: Selections from Oliver Cowdery’s Copy of the Book of Commandments
Doctrine and Covenants, 1844 (Sections 101-107)

Reference Material
Chronology for the Years 1831-1835, 1844
Directory of Printers
Substitute Words in the 1835 and 1844 Editions of the Doctrine and Covenants
Works Cited
Corresponding Published Versions of Revelations

Acknowledgments

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