Reviews – The Joseph Smith Revelations: Text and Commentary
Latter Day Saint History
A hallmark and distinguishable characteristic of The Latter Day Saint Movement is that of on-going revelation. Since its formal beginnings in 1830, The Latter Day Saint Movement has added significant revelation to the body of “canonized” scripture.
As is the nature of any body holding written records, there is a need and a tendency to correct or edit, in later years, accounts in the written record, to reflect a clearer understanding of the event and the meaning of the event within the context of the movement itself.
Such is the case of The Latter Day Saint Movement, and this book, The Joseph Smith Revelations … Text & Commentary, presents the earliest documents and revelations of Joseph Smith, Jr., The Founding Prophet, Seer, and Revelator of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
These revelations are presented in chronological order in their earliest available forms. The author, H. Michael Marquardt, has done extensive research to locate original source documents, which include photographic reproductions, microfilm copies, Book of Commandments fragments, and transcriptions by Dean C. Jesse in The Papers of Joseph Smith Journal, 1832-1842.
A study of this type is significant for any sincere researcher of doctrine within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. An honest analysis of the earlist documents will enable the researcher to better understand the original intent of the revelation and how it was significantly altered through textual revision.
Early latter day saint revelations were replete with directions to the developing and growing church, as well as, the various priesthood offices functioning within it. These revelations are included in this study. Likewise included are revelations related to scriptural interpretation and matters of day-to-day living. These revelations were given to the church in general, but were primarily directed to men within various priesthood offices such as elder and high priest.
A few women likewise are addressed directly in some of the early revelations. These are included in this research.
In his research, Marquardt notes that early revelations of this type lacked verse numbers, making the research difficult. Additional difficulties arose when words could not be read in the original formats. These are identified by brackets.
Mr. Marquardt has included source notations for texts at the beginning of each document. Extensive footnotes are included throughout the text. References to additional Scriptures of the church are noted. These include The Book of Commandments, The Book of Doctrine & Covenants, and The Book of Mormon.
Source documents were made available to Mr. Marquardt from The Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; The Library-Archives of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University; The LDS Family History Library; The J. Willard Marriott Library; The University of Utah Library; The Utah State Historical Library; The Kansas State Historical Library; The Mercantile Library Association; The Missouri Historical Society; and The Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio. These various facilities each contain significant manuscripts relating to The Restoration Movement. Mr. Marquardt’s efforts to be inclusive of original manuscript evidence has heightened the significance of this type of study.
Any Latter-day Saint certainly needs to know the history of what is now accepted as doctrine or revelation (especially now knowing that what is currently in print is not what was originally received and/or in print.)
Evidence will show that the doctrine and theology of Joseph Smith changed in the revelations as his theology developed and changed. This thinking enabled him to take on the task of revising The Bible itself. Likewise, revisions were to come to his autobiography, as well as his revelations.
This extensive volume of research is divided into several very readable sections which include:
I. Historical Background: Evolution of The Canon
II. The Documents, Book of Mormon Development period, July 1828-March 1830 includes LDS D&C3, “Sets at Naught The Counsels of God”, through LDS D&C, “Pay the Printer’s debt”
The Documents, Church of Christ Years, April 1830-May 1834 includes LDS D&C 23, “Beware of Pride”, through LDS D&C 40, “His Heart Was Right Before Me”. This section know as “Laying The Foundations”
The Documents, Receiving The Laws, February 1831-September 1831 includes LDS D&C 41, “Hearken and Hear, O Ye My People”, through LDS D&C 64, “I will have compassion upon you”
The Documents, Publishing The Revelations, October 1831-April 1832 includes LDS D&C 66, “Blessed are you for Receiving Mine Everlasting Covenant”, through LDS D&C 83, “All children Have Claim Upon Their Parents until they are of age”
The Documents, Priesthood Development, august 1832-April 1834 includes LDS D&C 99, “Whoso receiveth You as a Little Child Receiveth My Kingdom”, through LDS D&C 104, “Properties Which Belong to the Firm”, and an added Revelation, “Let there Be Reserved Three Thousand Dollars”
The Documents, Church of The Latter Day Saints Period, May 1834-April 1838 includes LDS D&C 105, “Wait for a Little Season for The Redemption of Zion”, through a revelation entitled, “Provide for His Family”
The Documents, Early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Period, April 1838-November 1843 includes LDS D&C 115, “The Ground upon Which Thou Standest is Holy”, through LDS D&C 132, “For Time and for all Eternity”, and an added revelation, “Labor Diligently in proclaiming my gospel”
The appendices include:
Corrected Dates and Locations of Joseph Smith Revelations
Book of Commandments Manuscript Fragments
Revelations printed in The Evening and the Morning Star
Locations of Manuscript Revelations
Six Additional Revelations Given Through Joseph Smith
Commandment Given to Oliver Cowdery in 1829
A bibliography and an index conclude this volume of significant research.
As this document has sought to provide insight into the concept of revelation as living and growing, it is extremely significant, for historical accuracy, to preserve the original records and to process them through the lens of the Divine will that was revealed at a significant time in the development of the church and its doctrine.
This text is an absolute necessity for any researcher seeking historical accuracy with church documents, as well as, their transformation over time. Seeking to understand the relationship between the human and the divine natures certainly accounts for a multitude of revelations and revisions. This volume does an excellent job of presenting and processing both. I highly recommend it to all with a focus on The Restoration Gospel.
Journal of Mormon History, RONALD E. ROMIG
This new book by Michael Marquardt is both familiar and unique in its approach. At first glance, it may simply appear to be a book of essays about early Church history topics—but, not really. If readers attempt to use it in this way, essays on specific subjects will prove elusive. However, readers genuinely interested in exploring the earliest sources of Restoration scripture will find this book of great value.
In the genre of Wilford Wood’s Joseph Begins His Work (Salt Lake City, 1958), Marquardt’s Revelations makes the content of inspired materials of the early Restoration readily accessible. Instead of reproducing rare printed works, Marquardt transcribes and compares early versions of Joseph Smith’s manuscript revelations. Again, a bit like Fred C. Collier’s Unpublished Revelations of the Prophets and Presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Salt Lake City: Collier’s Publishing, 1981), Marquardt’s work provides access to less readily available manuscript materials such as those quoted from the Newel K. Whitney Collection at the Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, and the Book of the Law of the Lord and Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith from the LDS Church Historical Department Archives. Yet more than any other existing work, Marquardt’s The Joseph Smith Revelations is a kind of pracitcal, shorthand version of Robert J. Woodford’s exhaustive two-volume “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants” (Ph.D. diss., Department of Ancient Scriptures, Brigham Young University, 1974.) As a consequence, both casual readers and scholars alike will appreciate having the earliest available readings arranged in a single volume. Such a resource has been needed for inquirers interested in exploring the scholarly depths that this field of study can afford. Many revelations have multiple manuscript sources. Some have only one. Some have none with printed editions being their only source. Woodford is the most comprehensive listing of extant manuscript sources for each section of the D&C.
Marquardt’s organizational scheme is straightforward and logical. It begins with an introductory essay explaining this collection of materials. Thereafter, revelatory materials are methodically ordered into chapters, based on a simple chronological arrangement. Joseph Smith Revelations reproduces many of Smith’s inspired documents verbatim. Where change occurs, it is carefully noted, often followed by appropriate comment. However, Marquardt wisely avoided the temptation to comment in every instance. For instance, the revelations describing early consecration practices in Jackson County, Missouri, between 1831 and 1835 show significant evolution. After a law suit challenged consecration procedures, Smith advised Partridge of the need for changes in a 2 May 1833 letter. Wording of LDS 51:3-6; RLDS 51-1 changed, bringing property ownership provisions in line with the law of the land. Inheritance privileges transformed from conditional lease status to rights secured by deed. “A writing that shall secure unto him his protion . . . until he transgresses,” was amended to “shall only have claim on that portion that is deeded unto him,” (134).
Unlike many scholars, Marquardt concludes that Joseph Smith himself participated in changing the revelations in response to altered conditions, noting, “The 1835 D&C text represents an important departure from the early text. . . .” (114, 334). Marquardt also provides insight into problems relating to the department of Bishop Edward Partridge’s role and Smith’s attempts to introduce organizational mechanisms limiting the bishop’s role, i.e., a bishop should be a literal descendant of Aaron (172, 177). Marqhardt explains, “There are two complete manuscripts of document 78, neither of which states that a literal descendant of Aaron has the legal right of the office of bishop. This is not only foreign to the early text, but nothing of this sort was taught in 1831. . . . Why this type of addition was made is not known. It gives the impression that a bishop could be replaced if a literal descendant of Aaron could be found” (172).
Marquardt’s commentaries provide an opportunity for him to revisit some favorite topics. Here, introducing Joseph Knight Sr.’s allusion to Manchester, New York, as the site for the organization of the church (58), he reprises his challenge to traditional understandings of the founding narrative, discussed in more detail in his earlier Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record (Smith Research Associates, 1994).
Compiling this volume gave Marquardt an opportunity to gather and describe Mormon canon. He explains, “My selection of ‘revelations’ follows the canonical tradition. It includes not only foundational doctrinal assertions and visions but also pronouncements regarding the duties of church leaders” (xi). Implicitly arguing that an expanded canon exists, Marquardt inserts materials from less familiar unpublished sources. Some of the materials included are noteworthy. For example, he includes the testimony of the witnesses from the Book of Commandments. Adherents of the early Restoration movement initially envisioned a series of publications following the Book of Mormon pattern and including the Book of Commandments, the Book of John Whitmer, the Book of the Law of the Lord, or possibly The Book of the Law of God (219), and so forth. As with the Book of Mormon, “a number of brethren” prepared a written statement affirming the inspired nature of the contents of the Book of Commandments which was designed as part of the completed work. But this testimony was omitted when the revelations finally appeared as the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835 (168-69). (See the Far West Record, November 1831, 27.) Marquardt also includes a number of inspired observances recorded only in Joseph Smith Jr.’s journal (273-80).
Marquardt also considerately informs readers of the kinds of materials he elected not to include in this compilation, such as items in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants omitted from subsequent editions (xix). In the end, the readers are left to decide whether they are glad that all these bits of revelation are not included in LDS and RLDS editions of the scriptures.
Throughout, the transcriptions in The Joseph Smith Revelations are simply, but well, done and reliable. The texts are easy to understand and use. Marquardt quotes revelatory texts in the Book of the Law of the Lord (a volume of revelations, blessings, and tithing records in posession of the LDS Church that is not available to researchers); in this case, he drew heavily on reliable transcriptions by Dean C. Jessee in The Papers of Joseph Smith: Journal, 1832-1842 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1992). But a more detailed explanation of Marquardt’s transcription methodology would be useful for serious students.
The objectivity of Marquardt’s Joseph Smith Revelations may come as a surprise for some potential readers. Neither an apology for nor tool against the Restoration, it forthrightly points out textual and historical problems (335). Once perceived among Latter-day Saints as inclined toward the anti-Mormon end of the spectrum, in this and recent works, Marquardt often seems transformed. He appears to argue certain interpretations of Latter-day Saint canon as an insider. For example, see his discussions of Elias (78).
Marquardt has now come into his own in this field of documentary editing and brings considerable experience to the task of compiling and straightforwardly explaining Smith’s revelations. While this work was in progress, Marquardt apparently contemplated including a complete transcription of the Kirtland Revelation Book manuscript, currently housed at the LDS Church Historical Department Archives. An image of the Kirtland volume even appears on The Joseph Smith Revelations‘s dust jacket. The final work includes only twenty-two of the forty-nine revelations. Furthermore, because they are included chronologically, his organization disassociates these revelations from one another, making them hard to locate. This observation is not a complaint about the value or utility of Marquardt’s work, but students would still benefit from a straightforward transcription of the Kirtland Revelation Book.
Readers will find a healthy portion of the work devoted to useful appendices and supplemental end matter. Recent scholarship has shed additional light on when and where some revelations were originally received. Corrected dates and locations are detailed in Appendix A. Appendix B is a complete transcription of the Book of Commandments manuscript fragments housed at the RLDS Library-Archives, in Independence, Missouri, readily available for the first time. Appendix D pinpoints the locations of a varied body of manuscript materials available at the LDS Church Historical Department.
While most of this volume has appeared in print here or there, only the most dedicated are likely to have gathered them together. In arranging scattered items in one carefully edited, easy-to-use volume, Marquardt has admirably accomplished his purpose with this work. Cross references to current LDS and RLDS Doctrine and Covenants make this work usable throughout the movement. On the whole, The Joseph Smith Revelations is carefully crafted by both author and publisher and provides much to recommend it as an objective and practical Restoration history resource.
Michael Marquardt, a retired civil servant, has written extensively on Mormon history. He is an internet webmaster for “Mormon Origins.” His collection of 170 documents “arranges in chronological order the revelations received by Mormonism’s founding prophet, Joseph Smith, in their earliest available form. Important textual revisions that appeared in the canonized 1835 Doctrine and Covenants are included at the end of each revelation affected.” The documents include “not only foundational doctrinal assertions and visions but also pronouncements regarding the duties of church leaders.” The compiler includes a historical introduction, commentary, sixteen illustrations, six appendices, a bibliography, and an index.”.