Joseph Smith Revelations
Text and Commentary
H. Michael Marquardt
Hardback / 440 pages / 1-56085-126-0 / $44.95
There was frustration in Oliver Cowdery’s 4 February 1835 letter to Bishop Newel K. Whitney. Oliver Cowdery was trying to acquire “the original copy of … The Law of the Church” and had so far been unable to locate a reliable source. He even confessed publicly to being “not a little surprised” in preparing the revelations of Joseph Smith for publication “to find the previous print[ing in the church newspaper] so different from the original.” The problem, as historian Richard P. Howard has noted, was that Cowdery was using “a different original” from what he had seen four years earlier.
Indeed, agrees author H. Michael Marquardt, it is apparent that the 1835 version of Smith’s revelations was a “revised, expanded text that contained material anachronistic to the original 1831 setting.” More specifically, many documents were “added to, excised, and in some cases assigned different historical settings. … Among other emendations, the changes softened language, reinterpreted economic matters, added offices existing at the time of revision, and inserted references to priesthood restoration.” Where events had “not unfolded as proposed,” prophecies were reevaluated and, where necessary, revised.
What does it matter? Many of the changes are significant, whether one sees them as historical curiosities, background to the intent of now ambiguous passages, or as insight into God’s “line upon line” dealings with mortal men and women. The latter may be the most important, as the “evolution of the canon” implies something about the nature of revelation itself. The obvious casualty for anyone undertaking a careful study of church documents is the assumption of infallibility versus a fluid, dynamic model of revelation, what Marquardt calls the “richness of the living text as it is transformed over time.” This new understanding reveals “important, fundamental vistas” for understanding doctrine, policy, and history.
In some ways Marquardt’s seminal study reminds one of the work of biblical scholars sifted through ancient parchments. The object in this case is the earliest extant manuscripts of Joseph Smith’s revelations. Marquardt compares these to the canonized versions of the documents as included in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants; adding annotation and commentary for convenience. The source documents include: A Book of Commandments (manuscript, Law and Covenants books B and C, and printed sheets from 1833), the Book of the Law of the Lord manuscript, the William Clayton Journal, Zebedee Coltrin Journal, The Evening and the Morning Star, Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, Kirtland Revelations Book manuscript, Manuscript Letter to John E. Page, Manuscript History books A-1 and C-1, Manuscript Revelations Collection, William E. McLellin Collection, Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith manuscript, Joseph Smith Journal, Frederick G. Williams Papers, Newel K. Whitney Collection, and many others.
H. Michael Marquardt is co-author with the late Wesley P. Walters of the acclaimed The Four Gospels According to Joseph Smith; Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record; he is also the author of The Rise of Mormonism: 1816-1844; and editor of Early Patriarchal Blessings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In addition, he is the author of several historical monographs, including The Book of Abraham Revisited, Joseph Smith’s Diaries, and The Strange Marriages of Sarah Ann Whitney, and of essays that have appeared in a variety of professional and religious journals. A retired civil servant, he is now the webmaster for the Mormon Origins site. He and his wife, Dorothy, live in Sandy, Utah, and have five children.