Reviews – An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith
Associated Press, Michael White
Four years after murder and forgery turned a spotlight on the Mormon Church’s early history, publishers are finding a ready market for the original writings of the faith’s founder, Joseph Smith. A new paperback edition of Smith’s personal diaries and journals offers perhaps the most personal and candid view yet of the complex and charismatic Smith. They reveal a robust, gregarious man who might compete in a wrestling match in the morning and preach a sermon after lunch.
Signature Books reports brisk sales of An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith. Meanwhile, Mormon Church-owned Deseret Book is preparing to release this fall the first of six volumes containing Smith’s complete writings in their original, unedited form. “People tend to identify Mormonism with Brigham Young, but before Brigham was Joseph. These documents give you a view of who he really was,” said Scott Faulring, editor of the Signature volume.
The interest in the projects stems at least in part from Mark Hofmann, a former Mormon missionary who later turned to murder to hide a scheme in which he sold the church and private collectors thousands of dollars worth of his forged historical documents.
The most controversial of the fake documents implied that Smith was deeply involved in the occult, and sharply contradicted official accounts of the faith’s origins. “Mark Hofmann was introducing all those forgeries, and I think that heightened interest in Mormon history. It did a lot of harm, but perhaps it also did some good in some ways,” said Jack Lyon, Deseret Book associate editor. Faulring’s work was first published two years ago in a limited hardback edition. The 500 copies sold quickly at $50 each, and now go for as much as $175 in local bookstores. The paperback sells for $10.
Official Mormon histories of Smith, mostly prepared during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, paint a sterile portrait of Smith that is largely devoid of personality—a failing both Signature and Deseret Book are anxious to correct. “The idea behind it is to give the reader a chance to understand the personality of Joseph Smith,” Lyon said of the prophet, which will be edited by Dean C. Jessee, a Brigham Young University professor of history and religion. Smith started the church in upstate New York in 1830 with six members, claiming to have been directed by God to do so. The church now has 6.7 million members.
The journals and diaries compiled by Faulring place the reader virtually at Smith’s side from late 1832 until July 22, 1844, five days before the Mormon prophet died at the hands of an angry mob in the Carthage, Illinois jail. The book includes journals written or dictated personally by Smith, or penned by scribes appointed to travel with him and keep a daily record of his activities. The Deseret Book project will be far more comprehensive, including Smith’s correspondence, sermons and other papers, said Lyon.
Faulring concedes that some passages may shock Mormon readers acquainted only with official histories. For instance, about six weeks before his death Smith wrote of stopping at a Nauvoo, Illinois, tavern for a beer. It wasn’t until well after Smith’s death that the church declared the consumption of alcohol a sin, but some Mormons may balk at the image of Smith with a brew in hand, Faulring said.
In another passage Smith, an accomplished wrestler, describes an altercation with a Baptist preacher in Kirtland, Ohio, who had intruded into Smith’s home and “abused” his family. “I turned him out of doors,” Smith wrote. “He raised his cane to strike me and continued to abuse me. I whipped him till he begged.”
The larger portion of the book offers an intimate view of Smith in do-to-day activities, relating anecdotes about his parents and his childhood and his frustration and sorrow over persecution that eventually cost him his life and drove his followers to Utah. Students of Mormon doctrine will recognize passages that later became part of the faith’s scripture, such as teachings on the relationship between obedience and blessings. Faulring, who joined the Mormon Church in 1976, said he became interested in Smith’s writings while attending BYU as an accounting student. Eventually, he took a second major in history, and assisted in editing Signature’s nine-volume compilation of the journal of Wilford Woodruff, the church’s fourth president.
A career Air Force accounting and finance officer, Faulring worked on the Smith project while stationed in Vogelweh, West Germany. “For me, it’s been a kind of faith-promoting experience,” Faulring said. “It’s enabled me to see Joseph Smith as a man rather than a semi-god. Church members tend to see him as [a man who] didn’t make mistakes, didn’t have emotions, didn’t lose his temper. I don’t think he liked to be put up on a pedestal.”
Church History, William C. Ringenberg
With the publication of this volume there now exists for the first time in on book the entirety of the personal diaries and journals of the foudner and first president of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith. Large parts of these documents had appeared in print before, most notably in the edited works of H. Michael Marquardt (1979-82) and as excerpts in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1980).
The editor desires that his work be viewed as objective scholarship in the best tradition of historical editing. While Scott Faulring is a loyal member of the Mormon Church (officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and has published this book at the request of Smith Research Associates and by arrangement with the Joseph Smith Family Association, he is acutely aware of “the justified criticism that in the past some of the editors of official LDS and RLDS (the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) publications have deliberately tampered with original documents.” Furthermore he has chosen to publish this work with Signature Books, the independent and academic-oriented Salt Lake City publishing house. Following his 1983 graduation from Brigham Young University with a degree in history, Faulring worked for two years in preparing for publication the nine-volume journals of another Mormon president, Wilford Woodruff. Faulring’s goal in the current work is to present the Smith document in a manner that is both clear and honest (“a readable format without adversely affecting the meaning or spirit of the originals”). In this he identifies as his model the modern American historical editing tradition introduced by Julian P. Boyd (The Papers of Thomas Jefferson) in the 1950s.
For most consumers of this book, its primary value will be as a reference tool. While parts of the narrative are especially engaging (e.g. Smith’s description of his original visions in his “Autobiographical Sketch, 1832” and his 1844 diary entries during the period preceding his death and assassination), much of the book does not provide for easy, natural reading. Most readers will not follow the book to the end as Smith’s recordings become increasingly disjointed and paranoid as his life became more complex and difficult. Yet the book is important because it is now the single best source of the private writings of the founder of what has become the largest religious organization to have its origin in America. Because of the book’s reference value, the quality of the index is very important. The 21-page index is good in citing people and places but less thorough in listing ideas; perhaps a later edition of the book could redress this imbalance.
John Whitmer Historical Journal, Edward A. Warner
Scott Faulring is to be commended for the time-consuming, painstaking, honest editing and representation of . . . Joseph Smith, Jr.’s personal diaries and journals. In this work a “diary” contains entries written or dictated directly by Joseph personally, whereas a “journal” is composed of entries written by a secretary (which Smith frequently employed due to his busy schedule) for Joseph but not by him (xiii). These documents were written in periods from November 27, 1832, to June 22, 1844. Except for “The Book of the Law of the Lord” these documents were obtained from published sources or from microfilm copies of the originals; but Faulring is candid to confess that he was not allowed access to the originals which are housed in the archives of the Historical Department of the LDS Church, Salt Lake City.
Faulring assumes enough editorial liberty and license to “modernize” the documents into what he calls “readable format.” But he is very precise to explain the categories of his editorial guidelines and to pledge consistency of application of these guidelines. Blanks, abbreviations, misspellings, corrections, deletions, etc., are usually indicated faithfully in the text. Consequently, Faulring has produced a single-volume accessible text of ten primary documents that are accurate and reliable enough for student or lay person research into Joseph Smith’s life and thought. This is especially valuable for undergraduate students and educated lay persons who cannot afford to travel—like professional scholars or researchers—to libraries and repositories to see the microfilm originals for primary research, but they can still be assured of the accuracy and reliability of the basic documents. Most importantly, the reading of such “diaries” and “journals” probably gives one the most accurate access to the thinking and speaking of Joseph Smith this side of the grave; it gives one a much better “feel” for how Smith’s mind worked than any secondary source possibly could.
In addition to Faulring’s introduction about the nature of his editorial work and the text itself, the book includes a Joseph Smith, Jr., chronology of significant events in his life, an identification of prominent characters appearing in his life and the text, a selected Joseph Smith bibliography, and a modest but helpful index. The text is well presented and highly readable.
This volume makes a representative quantity of the diaries and journals of the early Mormon prophet available in a single, readable volume. We are appreciative of this contribution by Faulring and the Signature publishers. Unfortunately, the limited number of hardbound copies printed have already sold out, so interested parties will need to purchase a paperback edition or consult this work in libraries that have secured a copy.
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Marvin S. Hill
Scott Faulring’s one volume edition of Joseph Smith’s diaries and journals is actually more of the latter than the former, written for Smith by his scribes. Faulring made use of microfilm copies of some of these sources to provide us with a useful collection on the life of the Mormon prophet. Sources included here are a diary-journal, partly in Smith’s own hand, written in 1832, which provides a variation on Joseph Smith’s first vision story; a sketch book in the hand of Oliver Cowdery covering 1835-36, said by Faulring to be the “most detailed of any of Smith’s diaries”; a “Scriptory Book” kept for the prophet by George W. Robinson, revealing details of the Mormon War in Missouri in 1838; a journal by James Mulholland that contains many observations and remarks by the prophet, revealing much of his mindset; similar journals kept by Willard Richards that are also revealing; and excerpts from what Faulring takes to be the “Book of the Law of the Lord,” a manuscript in the Church Archives which Faulring could not see but which he seeks to reproduce form the published History of the Church. While parts of these sources have been published heretofore by scholars like Milton Backman, Lyndon Cook, and Andrew Ehat, publication of the journals by Ebenezer Robinson and Willard Richards make the volume worthwhile.
Some of the passages deleted from the published history suggest the temperamental side of Joseph Smith. On March 20, 1834, the prophet was indignant that the citizens of Livingstone County, N.Y. would not put him and other Mormon missionaries up for the night. His scribe recorded that he “tryed three times” one day “to git keept in the name of Deciples and could not be keept. After night we found man who would keep us for mon[e]y. Thus we see that there [is] more place for mon[e]y than for Jesus’ [disciples or] the Lamb of God” (24). In April, 1834 Smith pronounced a malevolent prophecy on the head of one of his enemies, Philastus Hurlbut, saying the Lord ‘shall destroy him who has lifted his heal against me. . . . He [will] deliver him to the fowls of heaven and his bones shall be cast to the blast of the wind” (25).
The Scriptory Book has a great deal of information regarding Kirtland and Missouri. It contains an unpublished revelation of January 12, 1838, in which Smith was to flee Kirtland where dissenters were causing him and Sidney Rigdon great difficulty. “The time has come,” said the manifestation, that they were to “get yourselves into a land which I shall Show unto you. Even a land flowing with milk and honey.” But the land to which they fled was Far West, Missouri where further conflicts with dissenters, the organizing of Danites, and the waging of retaliatory warfare on Missourians led to their expulsion from the state. Some Danite activity is spelled out here, and Smith’s full support of Rigdon’s declaration of independence from Missouri persecution is made clear (211).
Smith’s use of frontier vernacular is indicated in his address of January, 1842, in which he told his followers: “If a man was going to hell I would not let any man disturb him. While we will be the last to oppress, we will be the last to be driven from our post. Peace be still, bury the hatchet and the sword, the sound of war is dreadful in my ear. [But] any man who will not fight for his wife and children is a coward and a bastard” (298).
According to Willard Richards, Smith’s prophecy regarding the American Civil War declared that the war “probably may come through the slave trade” (340), a somewhat less accurate and more tentative version than that in the published history. Smith’s supreme confidence in his prophetic calling is suggested in his affirmation, “God may correct the scripture by me if he choose” (362). The church history has this as “translate the scripture.”
Despite the beligerent tone of many of Smith’s remarks in this work, I do not find justification here for Fawn Brodie’s assumption that Joseph Smith was a conscious fraud. In those few sources written in his own hand there seems to be evidence to the contrary. Upon perceiving the northern lights in 1833, he wrote, “I arose and beheld to my great Joy the stars fall from heaven. . . . A literal fullfillment of the word of God as recorded in the holy scriptures and a sign that the coming of Christ is clost [close] at hand. Oh how marvellous are thy works Oh Lord and I thank thee for thy mer[r]cy u[n]to thy servant. Oh Lord save me in thy Kingdom for Christ[‘]s sake” (14).
Despite minimal editorial efforts, Faulring provides us with some important sources for evaluating the complex personality of the Mormon prophet. It helps that he has made clear those things written by Joseph Smith himself and those written by scribes. Until Dean Jessee completes more of his projected eight volumes of sources on Joseph Smith, Faulring’s volume is a useful stand in.
Kansas City Star/Times, Helen T. Gray
When a publisher approached Scott Faulring about editing the diaries and journals of Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Mormon Church, he welcomed the opportunity. He was familiar with writings that were not part of official Mormon Church histories of Smith. These writings portrayed the church founder in his more human aspects, Faulring said.
There was also another reason for the project, which produced a 500-page paperback titled, An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, the editor said in an interview this week. The book is a private publication of Signature Books of Salt Lake City. “After the (Mark) Hofmann forgeries, I felt that these diaries needed to come forth to show the true picture of Joseph Smith,” Faulring said. “For instance, Hofmann had said that Joseph was involved with the occult and mysticism.”
Hofmann’s forgeries were sold for thousands of dollars and led to murder in 1985 when Hofmann tried to hide the fraud. The well-publicized incident helped spark interest in the life of Joseph Smith, Faulring said. “Joseph was always bothered by people putting him up on a pedestal,” he said. “But this is what happened in the official Mormon Church histories because church officials wanted to portray Smith in the proper image of a religious leader. “Deleted or edited out of Smith’s writings were reference to polygamy because the church did not want to acknowledge it; references to Smith drinking a glass of wine or beer because they thought this would be misunderstood; and human things, such as his losing his temper or his colorful speech.”
One example, an entry from Feb. 21, 1843, showed how Smith felt about critics of the building of the Nauvoo House in Illinois. This was to be a guest house for prominent visitors to Nauvoo, which was the church headquarters in the early 1840s. “Who laid the foundation of the Temple? Brother Joseph in the name of the Lord, not for his aggrandizement but for the good of the whole. Our speculators say our poor folk on the flat are down and keep them down. How the Nauvoo House cheats this man and that man, say the speculators. They are fools and ought to hide their heads in a hollow pumkin and never take it out. . . .
“There is a great deal of mumurring (sic) in the church about me, but I don’t care anything about it. I like to hear it thunder, to hear the Saints grumbling. The growling dog gets the sorest head. If any man is poor and afflicted let him come and tell of it and not complain or grumble. . . .
“Finishing the Nauvoo House is like a man finishing a fight. If he give (sic) up he is killed. If he holds out a little longer he may live. A story, a man who will whip his wife is a coward. I fought with a man who had whipped his wife. I was going to give in, but I still remembered he was (whipping) his wife. I whipped him ’till he said enough.” Faulring said: “This reflects Joseph’s speech patterns. He was not an eloquent speaker, but what made him eloquent was the spirit of what he said.”
The book tells how Smith obtained the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, the beginnings of the new church, hist struggles with the responsibilities of leading the church and many of his day-to-day activities. Problems with money, church discipline, defections from within and persecutions from local settlers in Missouri and Illinois are all part of the accounts. Faulring is a 1983 graduate in history from Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, and worked extensively on the journals of Wilford Woodruff, the fourth president of the Mormon Church. He is a career Air Force accounting and finance officer. Faulring said he had been intrigued that Smith would have recorded the plural marriages of himself and other top leaders in the church. He said the subject of polygamy is a touchy one for both The Latter-day Saints Church, which has headquarters in Salt Lake City, and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has its headquarters in Independence.
“Traditionally, Brigham Young is credited with polygamy, but Joseph was the originator,” he said. “Joseph believed that God had told him to do this.” Faulring said he also had been intrigued that Smith would keep such extensive records, some of which he wrote and others of which he dictated to scribes. “Here is a common man, keeping a record of his life, and this is uncommon,” he said. “These materials were to be kept for the future. Joseph definitely had a vision for the future of his church. The people who killed him had thought that after that, the movement would die.”
Although the book would appeal mainly to people in churches that are based on Joseph Smith’s teachings, Faulring thinks that other persons interested in American history and the founding of a new religion in frontier Jacksonian America would find it interesting. Richard Howard, RLDS historian, observed that “this is a convenient collection of documents as close as we’ve ever been able to get to autobiographical materials on Joseph Smith.”
However, because only a small percentage—less than 10 percent—of the diaries and journals are in Joseph Smith’s own handwriting, the reader still does not get a clear picture of what Joseph Smith said about himself, Howard said. “For the most part, we’re looking at him through the eyes of scribes or editors,” he said. “All of this illustrates the difficulty we have of recapturing Joseph Smith.”
However, Faulring thinks that the scribes took great care in recording both what Smith said and what he did. “So I think we have a more comprehensive record of Joseph Smith’s activities, teachings, personality and traits and also the early development of the church to within a week of his assassination.”
Mesa Tribune, Lawn Griffiths
Three months before Mormon prophet/founder Joseph Smith was fatally shot in an Illinois jail in 1844, he suggested to his journal keeper that gaining great political power might be the best defense for his embattled church, harassed wherever he and his followers had settled. But alas, Smith wondered, what would happen if he were elected to the United States presidency for which he announced his candidacy six months before he died.
“We have as good a right to make political party to gain power to defend ourselves as for demagogues to make use of our religion to get power to destroy ourselves,” he said. “We will whip up a mob by getting up a president. When I look into the Eastern papers and see how popular I am, I am afraid I shall be president.”
Historians could speculate how American history might have changed had Smith lived long enough to run and be elected, but Scott Faulring, editor of the Mormon leader’s complete diaries and journals, believes Smith didn’t have a prayer of winning the national office given the turmoil that surrounded the church. The founder of the 7 million-member worldwide Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was 38 years old and had about 26,000 Mormon adherents when a mob overran a jail in Carthage, Illinois, and killed Smith and his brother Hyrum on June 22, 1844.
“Joseph knew that it was going to happen,” Faulring said in an interview on a tour promoting An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Signature Books, $9.95). “His enemies thought that when they killed him, it (Mormonism) would end. It didn’t. It was kind of like pouring gasoline on a fire.” As detailed diaries often do, the book offers a picture of the personality and character of Smith, how he influenced the evolving Mormon doctrine through revelation and sweat, how he coped with members who turned to enemies and how he maneuvered his budding church through the stormy early years in New York, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois.
Faulring says those carefully protected journals were themselves a product of a Smith revelation on the day he founded the church in 1830 that “there shall be a record among you.” The 518-page soft-cover book, whose publication began Aug. 1, is billed as the first “complete, unexpurgated diaries of Joseph Smith.” While selected portions of the day-to-day works of the controversial American religious leader have been in print since the mid-1840s, previous publishings have been heavily edited “to avoid possible controversy,” said a spokesman for Signature Books, the Salt Lake City publisher.
Faulring, 33, who joined the LDS church 12 years ago and went on to earn a degree in history from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, said he was able to undertake the laborious project through arrangement with the Joseph Smith Family Association which held rights to previously unpublished materials. The editor was given access to microfilm of the 11 original diary and journal manuscripts from 1832 to Smith’s death 12 years later. The first 10,000 copies of the book are more than 80 percent sold, and Signature Books will soon begin a second printing, Faulring said.
A career Air Force financial officer, Faulring did the work while stationed in New Mexico in 1986. Working with his wife Barbara, they read hundreds of thousands of script words in the hand of Smith and about 15 scribes and secretaries he used. “I would have the manuscript page in front of me o the reader and read it off to her,” he said. “We went through the entire manuscript three times. He tried to preserve original spellings and used brackets to expand cryptic abbreviations. Run-together sentences were sometimes properly punctuated; nothing but punctuation was deleted.
In original documents, references to secret polygamy and temple ceremonies were recorded in shorthand or code. He obtained the help of a BYU archivist to translate them. “They (early writers) were very discreet about plural marriages,” he said. Faulring said Smith, who had had revelations about such marriages, had at least 19 wives, but he didn’t take multiple wives until about three years before his death. Smith, while practicing polygamy and accepting it by others, objected to other LDS members preaching and teaching it. “In the later period, because Joseph was so busy, you found secretaries actually keepin the record books and observing Joseph as he said things and did things,” Faulring said. “Joseph Smith was a human being who believed in what he was doing. He would get frustrated. He would be elated,” Faulring said. “His emotions ran the whole gamut, and he expresses that in there. You get a picture of Joseph here that you don’t see in the official histories because they tend to tone it down–the more human parts of Joseph’s personality.”
Faulring said that “as a Latter-day Saint, I felt very good about the material. The image I have of him actually matured.” The editor said Smith had long worried that his journals might fall into the hands of his enemies and be misused, especially with his thoughts and statements being taken out of context. Church leaders today guard the extensive works of Smith and other prophets for the same reasons, he said. The editor said the journals, taken together, clearly show the LDS Church has been evolving, and life-style practices acceptable in early Mormonism, such as Smith drinking wine and beer, are now forbidden because of changes in the teachings of the church. With each revelation by the prophets, doctrines are reinterpreted and emphasized, he said. “Anti-Mormons love to take little tidbits and blow them all out of proportion and take them out of historical context, not just out of document context,” he said.
New York History
As a young man in central New York and Pennsylvania, Joseph Smith (1805-1844) put forth the discoveries and messages that marked the origins of religious groups, usually labelled “Mormons,” which now have a worldwide membership of about seven million. For the last twelve years of his life Smith kept diaries and journals, in his own hand or with the aid of a secretary, that now have a scriptural significance for Mormons and other of his descendants, and are also important sources for the history of the United States and New York State. This volume marks the first publication of Smith’s diaries and journals under one cover. It includes his autobiographical sketch, written in 1832, and diaries and journals for the years 1832-1836, 1838-1839, 1841-1844. Most of the material relates to Smith’s years in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, but there are numbers of entries that relate to New York and New Yorkers. Scott Faulring’s editing is sensible and meticulous, and he includes a detailed index. In light of current costs, the price of this weighty volume is extremely reasonable.
The Provo Daily Herald
For the first time ever, the complete, unexpurgated diaries of Joseph Smith, founder of the 7-million member Mormon church, are being released in a general trade edition. By special arrangement with the Joseph Smith Family Association, Signature Books of Salt Lake City, Utah, is publishing a 10,000-copy first-printing paperback edition of An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith.
Selected portions of Smith’s personal diaries have been in print since the mid-1840s, but previous publications have been heavily edited to avoid possible controversy. In contrast, An American Prophet’s Record contains the complete, uncensored texts of all of the controversial Mormon leader’s known diaries and journals from 1832 until his violent death in 1844. Smith’s revealing personal diaries are important to Mormon history because they contain the earliest contemporary references to Smith’s religious experiences and visions, to the development of Mormon doctrine, to the church’s involvement in politics and finances, to the controversial practice of polygamy, and to temple ordinances such as washings and anointings. In the original documents, references to secret polygamy and temple ceremonies were recorded in shorthand or in code. These have been translated into English in An American Prophet’s Record.
“The reading of these diaries and journals,” notes Edward J. Warner, professor of history at Indiana State University, “probably gives one the most accurate access to the thinking and speaking of Joseph Smith this side of the grave; it gives one a much better feel for how Smith’s mind worked than any secondary source possibly could.”
The editor of An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith is Scott H. Faulring, a graduate in history from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Faulring also worked on the nine-volume limited edition of the journals of Mormon church president Wilford Woodruff published by Signature Books in 1985. Faulring is currently employed by the U.S. Air Force and lives with his family in West Germany. An American Prophet’s Record was first published by Signature Books in a limited fine edition of 500 copies in 1987.
Small Press, David S. Azzolina
There can be no doubt that Joseph Smith was one of the most significant figures of nineteenth-century America. He founded a religion in the United States that is now worldwide. Dozens of new sects and denominations were begun in the mid-nineteenth century in the tumult of Jacksonian America; 150 years later, Smith’s alone is marking its mark on world history (only a slight exaggeration). And Smith is still controversial: prophet to believers, scoundrel to enemies, and, at best, enigma to scholars.
Given his stature (and perhaps because every side has a vested interest in keeping his writings under wraps), it is curious that published primary documents by Joseph Smith have been scant. Faulring has published ten diaries and journals (written by Smith or his secretaries), an accomplishment for which all students of Mormonism should be grateful. His commentary is sparse and lean—a fine approach since he is scrupulously faithful to the original author.
The Smith revealed in these pages is, in turn, concerned with his followers and—at the risk of sound flippant—a prophet going about a prophet’s business in the world as he found it. Court decisions have to be dealt with, supplies found, sermons preached. Ultimately, this books provides an appealing image of Smith. I hope the faithful won’t be distressed by its ordinariness and that nonbelievers won’t be derisive. Another Mormon historian, Dean Jessee, has been working on the “collected papers” of Smith and has already published some personal writings. Until that project is completed we can be glad Faulring compiled this book.
Standard Examiner (Ogden, Utah), John DeVilbiss
A new paperback edition containing never-before-published portions of Joseph Smith’s diaries reveals the Mormon Church founder as a man who characterized himself as an imperfect “rough stone” whose actions at times displayed contradictions on such issues as polygamy and abstinence from alcohol.
The book, An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, treats readers to detailed accounts of the church founder without smoothing out his rough edges, as did earlier church-sanctioned versions of Smith’s manuscripts. No such effort was made in this edition, said Scott H. Faulring, who compiled the diaries for publication in their entirety. “This is Joseph unedited,” he said. “It’s going back to what the original history was.” But even the original history did not always come straight from Joseph Smith, since most of his manuscripts were composed or written by the religious leader’s secretary. While they were true to events, Faulring said, in the process they often lost the introspection characteristic of Smith’s earlier diaries.
Faulring, 33, a career Air Force officer who lives in Germany, is launching a nationwide tour promoting the new paperback edition published by Signature Books of Salt Lake City. A cloth-bound limited edition sold out when first published in 1987. Faulring said the official church diaries and journals of Joseph Smith have been glossed over by earlier editors who felt a need to protect his image as a prophet and to downplay any evidence of weakness or contradictions in what he said and did.
“They rubbed down the rough edges,” he said. But even with those edges restored in his book, Faulring said the personal documents show Smith as a sincere and sometimes impassioned participant with no evidence of pretext or deception. “He was very sure of his role and his position,” Faulring said.
In compiling the 10 manuscripts—taken from microfilm because the church denied him access to the original documents—Faulring said he wrote it as he saw it, the way history was. “I didn’t want to be accused of taking sensitive things out to protect someone else’s views of Joseph Smith,” he said.
The LDS Church had little comment regarding the book. “The church does not normally make any kind of book review or critical analysis of a book as far as what people should and should not read,” said Gerry Pond, a church spokesman. Pond said Faulring’s book “shows how (Faulring’s) collection fits into the need for ongoing research into the life of Joseph Smith.” With approval of the Joseph Smith Family Association, Faulring began his research while a student at Brigham Young University during the late 1970s. He received a degree in history from BYU in 1983.
Faulring said what he discovered was “a real person instead of a built-up facade. I got to see what Joseph was really like.” “I am a rough stone,” said Smith’s June 11, 1843, diary entry. “The sound of the hammer and chisel was never heard on me nor never will be.”
Faulring said he found that Smith had at least 19 wives, documented by journal entries that were prosaically to the point. “Joseph Smith married to Rhode Richards and Willard Richards married to Susannah Lee Liptrot,” Richards, one of Smith’s scribes, wrote in the diary on June 12, 1843—one month before Smith’s 1831 revelation on polygamy was officially committed to writing. Joseph Smith already had been married to Emma Hale for 16 years at the time of the polygamous union.
An official history by church historian B. H. Roberts notes that while Smith said polygamy was made known to him by God in 1831, it also was revealed to him “that the time had not yet come to teach or practice this doctrine in the church, but that time would come later.” There was fear that apostate Mormons might obtain records such as Smith’s journals and use them against the church, Faulring said, so entries often were written in code. And what was said over the pulpit or in public was not always practiced behind closed doors.
Even after the revelation on polygamy was committed to writing, there were apparent contradictions in Smith’s diaries. An October 5, 1843, entry recounted how Smith “walked up and down street with scribe and gave instructions to try those who were preaching, teaching, or practicing (practicing was crossed out) the doctrine of plurality of wives on this law. Joseph forbids it and the practice thereof. No man shall have but one wife.”
Different interpretations concerning the church’s 1833 Word of Wisdom forbidding alcohol also can be found throughout the journals, as in the entry about a January 13, 1836, toast during a wedding celebration in which top church leaders drank three servers filled with glasses of wine. “Suffice it to say our hearts were made cheerful (cheerful was crossed out) and glad, while partaking of the bounty of the earth which was presented until we had taken our fill,” said the diary. More than 14 references are made throughout the journal of Smith drinking wine and beer, including his personal approval of the construction of a brewery in Nauvoo, Illinois. Some of Smith’s notations of drinking wine—white wine in one entry—were in connection with the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. Other references were under social circumstances such as for toasting or when visiting friends. In his June 1, 1844, entry he spoke of drinking a glass of beer at Moissers, a local tavern.
Curiously, Faulring said, during an excommunication trial April 13, 1838, of David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon, five charges were brought against him. The first charge on the list was for “not observing the words of wisdom.” Faulring said he is not sure of all that was involved in connection with the charge—whether it was because Whitmer perhaps was drinking to excess, or if perhaps the Word of Wisdom was observed and interpreted differently then. He said early church members definitely seemed more relaxed in their observance of the Word of Wisdom. “It wasn’t a worthy issue like it is today.” He said the church of the 1830s is not the church of today. Things have evolved since then. Church members who refuse to believe the church has undergone some changes over the years are the ones who may have the most difficulty accepting the book, Faulring said. But he said he hopes the book will help most members to “chill out” and not treat Smith like some demigod—something Smith himself warned against.
Utah Historical Quarterly
Billed as the first complete (but see below) and unexpurgated publication of the ten extant manuscript diaries and journals identified by historians as written or dictated by Joseph Smith or written by a secretary of the prophet, this volume also contains the earliest autobiographical sketch by Smith, composed in 1832.
With the permission of the Joseph Smith Family Association, Faulring transcribed most of these documents from microfilm copies of the originals. In the case of “The Book of the Law of the Lord” (500-plus manuscript pages), however, only previously published excerpts are included because Faulring was denied access to the original in the custody of the LDS church. Surely this is a compilation of primary importance, for it places the reader as close to Joseph Smith’s side as it is possible to get. The prophet appears, in Faulring’s words (p. xiii), as “a sincere and sometimes impassioned participant in the events described.” The portrait Smith paints of himself is not likely to disturb many of the faithful, for there is no “evidence of pretext or deception, even though the documents may at times relate a story different from traditional accounts.